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Artificial retina likened to a doughnut could restore sight

A retinal prosthesis is being developed by Swedish and Israeli researchers that uses a tiny, simple photoactive film to convert light impulses into electrical signals and stimulate neurons.

Made from inexpensive and widely-available organic pigments used in printing inks and cosmetics, it consists of tiny pixels like a digital camera sensor on a nanometric scale.

Each pixel is truly microscopic – about 100x thinner than a single cell and with a diameter smaller than the diameter of a human hair – and it consists of a pigment of semi-conducting nanocrystals.

The prosthesis is designed to be surgically implanted into the eye if a person’s sight has been lost as a consequence of the light-sensitive cells becoming degraded and unable to convert light into electric pulses.

“We have optimised 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," researcher Mr Eric Glowacki explains.

Glowacki, describes the artificial retina as a microscopic doughnut, with the crystal-containing pigment in the middle and a tiny metal ring around it. It acts without any external connectors, and the nerve cells are activated without a delay.

“The response time must be short if we are to gain control of the stimulation of nerve cells,” Glowecki’s colleague Mr David Rand, a postdoctoral researcher at Tel Aviv University, explains.

“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.”

The results from the research was recently published in the scientific journal Advanced Materials.


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