FET Flagship Initiative in Sensory Restoration

  • Carla Moris profile
    Carla Moris
    28 April 2016 - updated 1 year ago
    Total votes: 1

Contribution received to the FET Flagships consultation: FET Flagship Initiative in Sensory Restoration

Reporter: Claire CARAPEZZI, Fondation Voir et Entendre

Author: José-Alain SAHEL, The Vision Institute, a Translational UPMC/Inserm/CNRS Research Centre, Paris, France

You can add your comments on this topic at:  https://ec.europa.eu/futurium/en/content/fet-flagship-initiative-sensory...

Sensory restoration is coming of age. The possibility of regaining hearing following cochlear implant surgery has opened a new field that will, over the next decade, transform the treatment of blindness and deafness. Current progress in these fields is still limited to treating some frequent conditions such as cataracts, and most patients suffering from degeneration of the sensory cells have little hope of regaining their sight or hearing.

In recent years, regenerative medicine (e.g. gene and stem-cell therapies) and prosthetics (e.g. implants, neuromodulation, optogenetics) have entered the phase of early clinical trials and are poised to face this challenge. In order to fulfil such promises, a large-scale, holistic, ambitious strategy must be undertaken, built on these advances utilizing detailed personalized analysis of the status of remaining tissue (especially neural tissue) and the underlying causative mechanisms. Using big data mining for deep-phenotypic and genetic determinants will enable the patient-specific application of the relevant technology. This will require a massive effort in developing imaging technologies, preclinical models, manufacturing infrastructures, databases, big data computing, rehabilitation techniques and education. Sensory restoration and/or substitution will help patients affected by aging, or vascular or genetic conditions such as Usher syndrome (a devastating condition leading to both deafness and blindness) to gain or regain autonomy. Such restoration will depend on the stimulation of cortical plasticity through rehabilitation programmes based on patient-centred outcome assessment and functional imaging. These issues,which havebeen considered by western philosophy since Hume, Molyneux and Diderot, will be revisited within unprecedented, real life, paradigms that will lead to a better understanding and utilization of the virtually unlimited capabilities of the human mind. The impact on the European and global economy of fighting these devastating sensory handicaps will pair with a new marriage of science, humanities and art that has only recently been anticipated and will form the basis for renewed industrial, social and cultural patterns for dealing with the loss of our most sophisticated and precious gifts. Furthermore, the project also has implications far beyond restoring senses. We are on the verge of a huge revolution in medicine and science: implants and, more importantly, optogenetics will be used to treat more and more people in the world over the next decade or two. In addition to applications in other fields such as mental health and obesity, initial work in animal models is starting to emerge augmenting abilities and creating new senses (e.g. using implants to give animals infrared vision). Although the challenges to humanity remain enormous, there is also an unlimited potential. We suggest here that sensory restoration is the optimal model for solving the big challenges, scientific, technological and ethical, these most promising technologies pose, and that Europe can be the global leader in optimizing sensory restoration within this global scope.

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