Blind World

Wisconsin company raising funds to test brain device.

December 08, 2004.
Associated Press.

MIDDLETON, Wis. - A company is raising $3 million from investors for clinical trials of a device they hope will be able to help chronically dizzy patients walk again, help Navy divers find their way in murky waters and help the blind to see.

Wicab Inc. is raising the money to test its BrainPort system next spring.

The device invented by Paul Bach-y-Rita, a physician and University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, was patented by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. It has granted an exclusive license to Wicab, which he established in 1998.

Bach-y-Rita said the tongue, hooked up to electrodes, is an ideal organ for use in a "sensory substitution system" to supply information to the brain.

New digital cameras can be hooked up to electrodes on the tongues of visually impaired people allowing them to "view" elements of the world that would have been impossible to visualize before, he said.

"The technology is now becoming available to make this really practical," the 70-year-old scientist said, adding that he has been working on the device for 40 years.

The company hopes to get approval to sell the item in a year.

Wicab chief executive officer Robert Beckman said the company expects to close on a round of fund raising from investors at the end of the year.

The company has been financed thus far with about $5 million in federal grants, mostly from the National Institutes of Health.

"The focus is now on the markets and who this could benefit and how large those markets might be," Beckman said.

Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,

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