In the US alone, more than 20 million people lose part of or all their vision from failure of retinas – the layer of cells at the back of the eyeball that reacts to light and sends messages to the brain that we’re seeing something.
Until now, research has created crude versions of artificial retinas using hard materials. But now a doctoral student at Oxford University has created the first retina replica using water-based biological materials.
The student’s team mixed light-sensitive proteins into a base of hydrogels, which are made from water. The protein molecules receive light and then, like pixels on a computer screen, send patterns of light up the optic nerve to the brain.
The new artificial retina is likely to be better tolerated by the eye’s sensitive tissue than metal implants.
Animal trials are being planned.
TRENDPOST: The National Eye Institute predicts that retinal diseases, including degeneration caused by diabetes, will double in the US by 2050. Bioengineered means to restore sight will be a key growth area of research and investment.