Retinal prosthetic strategy with the capacity to restore normal vision
Retinal prosthetics offer hope for patients with retinal degenerative diseases. There are 20-25 million people worldwide who are blind or facing blindness due to these diseases, and they have few treatment options. Drug therapies are able to help a small fraction of the population, but for the vast majority, their best hope is through prosthetic devices [reviewed in Chader et al. (2009) Prog Brain Res 175:317-332]. Current prosthetics, however, are still very limited in the vision that they provide: for example, they allow for perception of spots of light and high-contrast edges, but not natural images. Efforts to improve prosthetic capabilities have focused largely on increasing the resolution of the device's stimulators (either electrodes or optogenetic transducers). Here, we show that a second factor is also critical: driving the stimulators with the retina's neural code. Using the mouse as a model system, we generated a prosthetic system that incorporates the code. This dramatically increased the system's capabilities--well beyond what can be achieved just by increasing resolution. Furthermore, the results show, using 9,800 optogenetically stimulated ganglion cell responses, that the combined effect of using the code and high-resolution stimulation is able to bring prosthetic capabilities into the realm of normal image representation.