A Brain Implant Gave This Blind Man Some Sense of Sight Again

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After losing his eyesight in a car accident seven years ago, Jason Esterhuizen can now cross the street a little bit more safely on his own, thanks to a new device that was implanted in his brain. 

"I still can't put it into words. I mean, from being able to see absolutely nothing, it's pitch black. To all of a sudden seeing little flickers of light move around," Esterhuizen trailed off in awe as he spoke to UCLA Health.

Dr. Nader Pouratian is the neurosurgeon who conducted Esterhuizen’s life-changing surgery.

"Being able to tell where a doorway is. Being able to see sidewalk begins or ends, or where the crosswalk is are all extremely meaningful events that can help these people regain some form of independence," Pouratian said.

The device, called the Orion, was implanted over the visual cortex in Esterhuizen’s brain. It converts images from a tiny video camera on a pair of sunglasses into a series of electrical pulses. The pulses stimulate electrodes in Esterhuizen’s brain, allowing him to see patterns of light, which act as visual cues.

The glasses also come with a belt that includes a button that can be pushed in order to amplify dark objects in the sun and light objects in the dark.

Currently, the implant stimulates the left side of the patient’s brain, so they can only perceive visual cues from their right field of vision. The ultimate goal is for the implant to work on both sides of the brain for a full field of vision.

"We basically have the video camera and the video processing unit performing the functions of what the eye normally does and we go directly back to the brain," Pouratian said.

"It's little white dots on a black background. It's like looking up at the stars at night,” Esterhuizen said.

Now Esterhuizen can determine light from dark.  

"Someone moving across the room, walking past me or walking away from me or it's a light against a wall, it was just amazing to have some form of vision again."

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