I was pleased to see a connection to the Lions Clubs International, a volunteer organization I belong to, in a story about a new technology that is helping wounded soldiers regain some of their lost eyesight. Gale Pollock is a retired US Army Major General and a Lion who works at the University of Pittsburgh’s entre for Vision Restoration. Together with Marine Corporal Mike Jernigan, who lost his vision in Iraq, Pollock was demonstrating a technology called Brainport, a sensor array which allows nerve endings on the tongue to translate visual inputs into shapes and patterns that can be discerned by the brain.

This photo of Cpl. Jernigan is from an article on BrainPort from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mike Jernigan has been mentioned in this blog before as a contributor to the New York Times’ series, Home Fires, on the experiences of veterans after returning home.

BrainPort is a technology developed by Centre for Vision Restoration for the US Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM)and is being trialled by the British military as well after a visit by the UK’s Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Health) to Gale Pollock’s Pittsburgh clinic. A British soldier, Craig Lundburg, also tried the device and described it this way.

“I could feel with my tongue that the first letter was an ‘A’, and then I moved onto the next one. It was amazing. Then I walked down a corridor and I could make out the doorways, the walls and people coming towards me.

“It was the first time since Iraq that I had been able to do that. The equipment needs a lot of work, but it has got huge potential.

“I am a realist. I know this isn’t going to give me my sight back, but it could be the next best thing,” Mr Lundberg added.

“I will tell the doctors and the scientists straight what I think of the technology – I won’t lie to them. But so far I am impressed.”

THe complete UK MOD press release on this story can be found here.