Research insight

Image of Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld AM OBE
Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld AM OBE

Report Anastasia Safioleas
Photography Paul Philipson

Independence is something every visually impaired person hopes for. Noted neurosurgeon Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld AM OBE (MD 2006) is helping turn this hope into reality.

Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld is Director of the Monash Institute of Medical Engineering (MIME) and a key member of the Monash Vision Group (MVG), the team currently developing the world’s first ‘direct to brain’ bionic eye.

“Blind people are very attuned to using all of their senses. We aim to restore some vision to supplement what they have already been using. We’re hoping they’ll be a lot more functional without having to use a guide dog or a white cane.”

The bionic eye device consists of a tiny camera mounted into a pair of glasses which acts as the retina. A pocket processor takes the electronic information from the camera and converts it into signals enabling the brain to build up a visual construct. These signals are transmitted wirelessly to scores of micro electrodes placed in the visual cortex.

By bypassing the eyes and the visual pathways, the Monash bionic eye could benefit visually impaired people who aren’t suitable for bionic vision implants on the retina.

“Visually impaired people want to be able to look in front of them and see what’s before them, like a doorway, where the steps are, where their cat is, or where people are situated around them. We’re not promising facial recognition – we’d like to be able to promise that – but it might take another 10 years to get that sort of detail.”

The Monash Vision Group, led by Professor Arthur Lowery from the Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering, is now preparing for world-first human trials.

It will be a giant step in the field of braincomputer interface. Not only could it benefit the many people who are clinically blind, it has the potential to assist people with other neurological problems, such as language disorders and those with stroke.

It is this gift of healing and giving people a better quality of life that has long motivated Professor Rosenfeld. He has until recently been Head of the University’s Department of Surgery and Director of the Department of Neurosurgery at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital, and in his capacity as a military surgeon and Surgeon General of the Australian Defence Force, has been deployed to war-torn areas in Rwanda, East Timor, Iraq, Bougainville and the
Solomon Islands.

What little spare time he has is given over to his family and music – Professor Rosenfeld is an accomplished clarinetist and performs with Corpus Medicorum, a Melbourne-based orchestra of health professionals.

“I strive for excellence, whether it’s in medicine or music. I’m always trying to stretch the boundaries in neurosurgery and neuroscience; l have a very inquisitive mind. That’s what drives me to do innovative research.”

For now, Professor Rosenfeld looks forward to the next chapter in Monash Vision Group’s momentous research.

“What is wonderful about this project, like a lot of the research projects conducted at Monash, is the willingness of researchers to collaborate across the traditional boundaries of faculties and schools.

“MIME fosters this collaborative approach and its researchers are developing many new exciting medical technologies along with its partner organisations and industry as a consequence.”