Report

Oxford student creates synthetic retina

Until now, articifical retinal research has only used rigid, hard materials, however, 24-year-old researcher Ms Vanessa Restrepo-Schild has discovered a way of incorporating biological, synthetic tissues developed in a laboratory environment.{{quote-A:R-W:470-I:2-Q: “A biological synthetic implant is soft and water-based, so much friendlier to the eye environment,”-WHO:Ms Vanessa Restrepo-Schild, Researcher at University of Oxford}}The advance looks set to revolutionise the bionic implant industry and, together with the development of new, less invasive technologies that more closely resble human body tissues, should help treat degenerative eye conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP).The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, describes how the artificial tissues were cultured from biological and biodegradable materials that make it less invasive and therefore less likely to produce adverse reactions.The retina replica consists of soft water droplets (hydrogels) and biological cell mbrane proteins. Designed like a camera, the cells act as pixels, detecting and reacting to light to create a grey scale image. Restrepo-Schild said the synthetic material generated electrical signals that stimulated the neurons at the back of our eye just like an actual retina.“The human eye is incredibly sensitive, which is why foreign bodies like metal retinal implants can be so damaging, leading to inflammation and or scarring. But a biological synthetic implant is soft and water-based, so much friendlier to the eye environment,” Restrepo-Schild said.{{image3-a:l-w:400}}The double-layered artificial retina closely mimics human retinal processes and although it has only been tested in laboratory-controlled conditions, it won’t be long before clinical trials donstrate how it performs as a bionic implant.“I have taken the principals behind vital bodily functions, such as our sense of hearing, touch and the ability to detect light, and replicated th in a laboratory environment with natural, synthetic components. I hope my research is the first step in a journey towards building technology that is soft and biodegradable instead of hard and wasteful,” the researcher added.