Researchers develop retinal prosthesis for blind patients

Researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel and Linköping University in Sweden have developed a retinal prosthesis that could restore vision in blind patients, according to research published May 2 in Advanced Materials.

Using cost-effective and easily accessible pigments, the same used in printing inks, researchers have developed a retinal prosthesis consisting of nanometric pixels. The artificial retina is made of a thin circular film of photoactive material that converts light into electrical signals that stimulate nerve cells.

"We have optimized the photoactive film for near-infrared light, since biological tissues, such as bone, blood and skin, are most transparent at these wavelengths. This raises the possibility of other applications in humans in the future," said Eric Glowacki, principal investigator of the organic nanocrystals subgroup in the Linköping’s Laboratory of Organic Electronics.

Much like the pixels in a digital camera sensor, the prosthesis consists of pigments of semi-conducting nanocrystals that could restore sight to blind patients. The prosthesis can be surgically implanted into the eye of patients who had lost their sight due to the degradation of light-sensitive cells.

"The response time must be short if we are to gain control of the stimulation of nerve cells," said David Rand, postdoctoral researcher at Tel Aviv University. "Here, the nerve cells are activated directly. We have shown that our device can be used to stimulate not only neurons in the brain but also neurons in non-functioning retinas."