Bionic Borg Cat Eye Implant Holds Promise For Blindness Cure


Biohacking, or the idea artificially enhancing biology is a hot topic.  There is even a whole blog devoted to it.  A story just hit the wires about a series of blindness reversing operations in cats.  Apparently, some felines get a version of retinitis pigmentosa and go blind just like their human counterparts.  Several have been fortunate (?) enough to play guinea pig and receive a kitty version of an experimental human retinal implant.

The story describes:

The chips, which provide their own energy, have shown encouraging results in clinical human trials, in some cases improving sight in people with retinitis pigmentosa or at least slowing the disease’s development. Narfstrom said chips have been implanted in 30 people.

Narfstrom’s cats will help researchers fine-tune the chips’ performance and train physicians on surgical techniques to implant the devices, because the structure of cat eyes is similar to human eyes.

The 2-millimeter-wide chips, developed by Optobionics Corp. of Naperville, Ill., are surgically implanted in the back of eye. Each chip’s surface is covered with 5,000 microphotodiodes that react to light, sending electric signals along the eye’s optic nerve to the brain.

“We’re placing it right where the photoreceptors are and if they’re lacking, this is supposed to replace what they’re doing,” she said. “At this point, its impulses of light they’re seeing (as opposed to images), but the aim of the research is to get more information out of the chip.”

Of course they do cite the many other companies working in this arena:

“Then there are the many attempts, like Optobionics, of creating artificial sight. Some efforts include miniature video cameras that pipe images straight to the brain, devices that send signals to a network of miniature electrodes attached to the retina or chips that eventually could graft themselves to retinal cells, creating a cyborg-like system for producing images.  A French company is conducting trials for an implant that would release proteins in the eyeball to offset the damage done to retinal cells, perhaps indefinitely.”

On a philosophical note how far would you go–A DARPA program administrator spoke to me about artificial limbs and the army’s work on “bionic” prosthetics (read more here and here).  He asked- “what if your daughter came up to you 10 years from now and said Daddy I want to be the fastest runner in the world- please cut off my legs and give me the prosthetic ones”.  We are approaching the technological inevitability when replacement body parts may surpass the abilities of our natural ones.  Legs that run faster or eyes that can see farther, sharper, or in the dark.  Would you get one implanted?  I also spoke with a doctor who was in charge of drug and genetic testing at the Olympics (genetic as in making sure the boys are boys and the girls are girls at the DNA level).  He asked a similar question about performance enhancing drugs and cited reports of college students using performance enhancing sleep deprivation drugs designed for the military.  If a drug was available with no short term side effects that could allow you to not nned to sleep for a few days and enhance memory and performance what proportion of college students would take it before exams?  What is the limits you would go to to enhance your performance?  I think my wife fears the day I come home with a Matrix-plug in the base of my skull….


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