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Subspecialties Basic & Translational Research, Neuro-ophthalmology

Tasting Vision

At a Glance

  • Visual information can be sent, via the tongue, in a manner that allows visually impaired people to receive and interpret it in a meaningful way 
  • BrainPort works by sending information from a camera to an array of sensors on the tongue, which form patterns by electrostimulation which, after training, are interpreted by the user
  • In test subjects without visual impairment, tongue electrostimulation results in activation of the somatosensory cortex (as expected). But in those who are blind, it’s the visual cortex that becomes activated
  • The technology could offer a less expensive and nonsurgical alternative to retinal implants, and might even be able to be used alongside other technologies to help improve independence for the profoundly blind

Neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to reorganize, adapt, and form new neural connections throughout adulthood – is an area of neurology with a checkered past. For many years it was thought that the adult brain was “hard-wired” with fixed neuronal circuits – a notion that’s now disproven. Today, there’s solid evidence of adult neuronal plasticity and an active, experience-dependent reorganization of the synaptic networks of the brain involving multiple interrelated structures – and this includes the cerebral cortex, the region of the brain where most visual input is processed. The BrainPort V100 is a device that was developed to exploit exactly these plastic processes, in order to help users “see” objects with their tongues…

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About the Author

Roisin McGuigan

I have an extensive academic background in the life sciences, having studied forensic biology and human medical genetics in my time at Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities. My research, data presentation and bioinformatics skills plus my ‘wet lab’ experience have been a superb grounding for my role as a deputy editor at Texere Publishing. The job allows me to utilize my hard-learned academic skills and experience in my current position within an exciting and contemporary publishing company.

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