Illinois Tech

First-of-its-kind Visual Prosthesis Brain Implant Moves to Clinical Trial

While there is currently no cure for blindness, a first-of-its-kind artificial vision system is beginning clinical trials.

The Intracortical Visual Prosthesis (ICVP) is an implant that connects directly to the brain’s visual cortex, bypassing the retina and optic nerves. The National Institutes of Health has awarded Illinois Tech researchers $2.5 million for a project that includes implanting their new type of wireless visual prosthesis system in volunteers. Funding will be provided as part of the NIH’s The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative. 

The implant system was developed by a multi-institutional team led by Philip R. Troyk—executive director of the Pritzker Institute of Biomedical Science and Engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology, professor of biomedical engineering—and represents the culmination of nearly three decades of Illinois Tech research.

“This is an incredibly exciting moment, not just for the field of biomedical science, but more importantly for people with blindness and their loved ones around the world,” says Troyk.

Since many individuals affected by total blindness do not have intact retinas or optic nerves but retain the visual cortex, an intracortical visual prosthesis may be the only possible advanced visual sensory aid from which they can benefit.

The Intracortical Visual Prosthesis System is the first intracortical visual implant to use a group of fully implanted miniaturized wireless stimulators to help explore whether individuals with no sight can visualize rendered images in real-time.

This visual prosthesis system allows devices to be implanted for an extended period, which is a unique advantage that provides researchers ample time to explore how the device can work effectively, and for the recipient to learn how the device can be useful. 

In the past two years during the preclinical phase, the Illinois Tech team has worked with surgeons to develop and refine surgical procedures, and now are prepared to surgically implant the devices. During the clinical phase, the idea is to be able to test whether this device will provide study participants with an improved ability to navigate and perform basic orientation tasks.

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