The 'bionic eye'—so long a dream of the future—is finally becoming a reality with retinal prostheses available in the US and Europe (Fig. 1; over 300 patients implanted). With cortical implants, optogenetic approaches, and stem cell therapy in development, a wide range of sight recovery (SR) options will be available to patients suffering from severe blindness.
Despite the increasing clinical and commercial use of these devices, the perceptual experience of SR patients is surprisingly poorly understood. A common misconception in the field is that each electrode in an array can be thought of as a 'pixel' in an image; to generate a complex visual experience, one then simply needs to turn on the right combination of pixels. However, almost all SR technologies are likely to suffer from perceptual distortions and subsequent loss of information due to interactions between the technology and the underlying neurophysiology.
The goal of my research is therefore:
to understand how interactions between SR technologies and neurophysiological mechanisms shape the visual perception of SR patients, and
to use this knowledge to develop advanced stimulation strategies for different SR devices, with the ultimate goal of restoring useful vision to people suffering from severe blindness.