As a graduate student at MIT, John Pezaris, PhD, pursued research in design for a supercomputer project. After his master’s degree, he switched fields to neuroscience, moving to Caltech for doctoral work in computation and neural systems. He noted that much of computer architecture was highly applicable to understanding the brain and developed state-of-the-art signal analysis to isolate activity from simultaneously recorded neurons. The methods developed have come into wide academic and commercial use.
As a research fellow at Harvard Medical School, he discovered that electrical stimulation in the thalamic lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) can be used to transiently silence spiking activity in primary visual cortex. This led, in turn, to modulating on-going visual activity with electrical stimulation and to creating artificial visual percepts. While a number of prior investigators had attempted to put visual stimuli into the living brain, his results suggested the LGN is an advantageous target not previously utilized, and his papers on visual prosthetics described a novel approach that challenged prior scientific dogma. Recognition followed, with his being named a finalist for the Saatchi & Saatchi Award for World Changing Ideas, and a finalist for Scientist of the Year by Status Magazine (Greece) for his efforts in restoring sight to the blind.
The Visual Prosthesis Laboratory is developing a device-based therapy to correct complete vision loss due to diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and optic neuritis, along with vision loss due to trauma to the eyes. In cases where the eye is no longer sensitive to light, the remainder of the visual system is often intact, but unable to respond to external stimulation. We are utilizing the highly advanced techniques of deep brain stimulation to provide an alternate pathway for visual information to enter the brain by implanting electrodes in the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus (LGN) and sending processed information from eyeglass-mounted digital cameras into the visual pathway one stage after the eyes.