World-changing ideas summit

The field of bionics has transformed medicine for centuries, as far back as the ancient Egyptians who created bespoke toes from wood and leather. During the 20th Century mechanical and electronic advances made heart pacemakers and more sophisticated prosthetic limbs possible. Now, researchers are creating bionic eyes to help blind people see again.

You don’t even need eyeballs  

Neurosurgeon Jeffrey Rosenfeld, director of the Monash Institute of Medical Engineering in Australia, hopes to implant tiny “ceramic micro-electrode tiles” into the brain’s visual cortex of blind volunteers this year – bypassing the normal visual pathway. You don’t even need eyeballs. A digital camera mounted on a pair of glasses captures images which are then processed in a device about the size of a mobile phone. The resulting image is then transferred wirelessly to the tiles in the brain – the more tiles, the more detailed the image. Such techniques designed to help people with disabilities could also be adopted by others wanting to enhance their own senses or performance.

Rosenfeld spoke to the BBC’s Claudia Hammond at our World-Changing Ideas Summit in Sydney in November. You can hear the interview from 7:30 onwards in the episode of BBC World Service programme Health Check below, which also features an exploration of the fascinating history of bionics, and the ethical questions that the next generation of enhancements may raise in the future.

Health Check has a podcast – you can subscribe here.

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