New 'cyborg eye' could help the blind see

The retina is made of soft water droplets and biological cell proteins. Its components detect and react to light to create a grey scale image.

Aaron Sims | May 07, 2017

Scientists have developed the first synthetic, soft-tissue retina in a lab.

The retina is made of soft water droplets and biological cell proteins. Its components detect and react to light to create a grey scale image.

The breakthrough could revolutionize the bionic implant industry, while also helping in the development of less invasive technologies in the treatment of degenerative eye conditions which can cause blindness.

Led by 24-year-old Vanessa Restrepo-Schild, a Doctor of Philosophy at Oxford University, the study used a double-layered material made of hydrogels and biological cell membrane proteins. The components replicated the functions of the retina.

The retina is designed like a camera, in that the material behaves as pixels, reacting to light to create a grayscale image.

"The synthetic material can generate electrical signals, which stimulate the neurons at the back of our eye just the original retina," said Restrepo-Schild.

The research shows that unlike current artificial retinal implants, the synthetic cell cultures are manufactured from natural, biodegradable sources.

The cell cultures also do not contain 'foreign bodies' or living organisms.

Due to this, the artificial synthetic droplets are less invasive compared to a mechanical device. They are also less likely to have an adverse reaction on the body.

According to Restrepo-Schild, the human eye is highly sensitive, and foreign bodies like metal retinal implants can cause severe damage such as inflammation and scarring.

She added that a natural synthetic is soft and water-based, and thus friendlier to the eye environment.

Restrepo-Child added that she has always been fascinated by the human body, and she wants to prove that current technology can be used to replicate the function of human tissues.

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