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article imageBreakthrough with artificial retinas for the visually impaired

By Tim Sandle     Dec 4, 2014 in Science
Tel Aviv - Researchers have created a new light-sensitive film that could be the basis of a prosthetic retina. Such a retina could aid people suffering from retinal damage or degeneration.
The retina is a light-sensitive layer of tissue, lining the inner surface of the eye. The optics of the eye create an image of the visual world on the retina (through the cornea and lens). Here the retina works in a similar way as film in a camera. Damage to the retina from macular degeneration can reduce vision or cause total blindness.
Considerable research is being invested into medical devices designed to counter the effects of retinal disorders. One of the problems here is size, and to overcome this most researchers think that nanotechnology is the answer. Nanotechnology describes the manipulation of matter on an atomic, molecular, and supramolecular scale.
Researchers have developed a novel approach for retina stimulation. A new device can absorb light and stimulates neurons without using wires or external power sources. To achieve this, a cross-university group combined semiconductor nanorods and carbon nanotubes to form a wireless, light-sensitive, flexible implantable film. Nanorods are produced by direct chemical synthesis.
The film functions by transforming visual cues into electric signals. In a way this functions in the same way as the photo-sensitive cells in the retina. Studies to date have been carried out on light-insensitive retinas from embryonic chicks, with success. A future stage will involve human trials.
The importance of the new technology is that it could, one day, form part of a future prosthetic device that will replace the damaged cells in the retina. The long-term aim is for the carbon nanotube-semiconductor nanocrystals film to replace damaged retinas in humans.
The study was carried out at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and Newcastle University (U.K.). The findings have been published in the journal Nano Letters. The report is titled “Semiconductor Nanorod-Carbon Nanotube Biomimetic Films for Wire-Free Photostimulation of Blind Retinas.”
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