The new medical development is combination of nanotechnology together with wireless electronics. This is to create a new type of retinal prosthesis, with the aim of restoring the ability of neurons in the retina to respond to light. This could lead to people with certain forms of blindness to ‘see’. The focus is with neurodegenerative diseases
that affect eyesight. This covers conditions like macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and loss of vision due to diabetes. This means the new method could potentially help millions of people worldwide.
Studies to date have been conducted on rats and the results of rats that had been previously rendered blind, able to respond to light are encouraging. This involves the combination of three technologies
. Firstly there are arrays of silicon nanowires that function to simultaneously sense light and then to electrically stimulate the retina as light is detected. Second are the nanowires which are designed to provide high resolution image sensitivity. These have been developed to mimic the dense spacing of photoreceptors in the human retina. Thirdly is the use of wireless technology, which provides the power to the nanowires and allows data to be transmitted.
READ MORE: Remnants of Earth's 4.2 billion-year-old crust found in Canada
Unlike previous projects the new development does not need a vision sensor to be fitted outside of the eye. Such sensors capture a visual scene and then transform this into alternating signals which proceed to sequentially stimulate retinal neurons. With the new device, nanowires are packed into a grid of electrodes, directly activated by light and powered by a single wireless electrical signal. Power comes via wireless signal located outside of body. The powering of the device is efficient because it recycles electrostatic energy.
Going forwards, according to the lead scientist Dr. Gabriel A. Silva: “We want to create a new class of devices with drastically improved capabilities to help people with impaired vision.”
The findings are reported to
the Journal of Neural Engineering
. The research paper is titled “Towards high-resolution retinal prostheses with direct optical addressing and inductive telemetry.”