Newly Developed Artificial Retina Implant Could Restore Lost Vision To Millions Of People

First Posted: Mar 14, 2017 04:20 AM EDT

Scientists came up with an artificial retinal implant that could give hope to millions of people suffering from retinal degeneration. The new implant could transform the light into an electrical signal that fuels the retinal neurons. This has been tested in rats and could be on trial in humans within this year.

The findings of the discovery were printed in Nature Materials. The study was led by scientists from the Italian Institute of Technology, according to Science Alert.

Grazia Pertile, one of the researchers and an ophthalmologist from the Sacred Heart Don Calabria in Negrar, Italy, is hoping to reproduce the implant in humans. "We plan to carry out the first human trials in the second half of this year and gather preliminary results during 2018." She further said that this implant could be a turning point in the treatment of severe debilitating retinal diseases.

The developed artificial retina implant could replace the damaged retina. It is made from a thin layer of conductive polymer. It is positioned on a silk-based substrate and enclosed with a semiconducting polymer, which serves as a photovoltaic material. The polymer then attracts photons when light enters the lens of the eye. Once this had occurred, the electricity then incites the retinal neurons.

The device was implanted into the eyes of rats that have retinal degeneration. The results showed that the implant stimulates the "residual neuronal circuitries in the degenerate retina." On the other hand, a research must be conducted to know how the stimulation works on a biological level.

Retinal degeneration is the weakening of retina that might lead to blindness. It is triggered by the death of cells of the retina, diabetic retinopathy, artery or vein occlusion, retrolental fibroplasia, retinopathy of prematurity or hereditary. Its symptoms include night blindness, impaired vision, light sensitivity, retinal detachment, tunnel vision and loss or peripheral vision that leads to blindness. 

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