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First Synthetic Retina Created

08 May 2017

A student at the University of Oxford engineered a novel prototype that could drastically alter the bionic implant space. The product is a synthetic, soft-tissue retina comprised of soft water droplets and biological cell membrane proteins.

Lead researcher Vanessa Restrepo-Schild created cell-cultures from natural, biodegradable materials that don’t contain foreign bodies or living entities. Opting for this method means the experimental implant is less invasive and won’t cause an adverse reaction in the body.

“'The human eye is incredibly sensitive, which is why foreign bodies like metal retinal implants can be so damaging, leading to inflammation and/or scaring. But a biological synthetic implant is soft and water based, so much more friendly to the eye environment,” explained Restrepo-Schild.

The goal of this implant is to closely mimic the natural human retinal process. Retinas are situated at the back of the eye where they use protein cells to convert light into electrical signals. These signals move through the nervous system, activating a response in the brain and ultimately building an image of the scene being viewed.

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

The implant was designed like a camera where the cells work as pixels detecting and reacting, forming a grey scale image, according to the announcement.

Ultimately, the goal of this experiment is to develop the next generation of less invasive medical technologies closely resembling human body tissues for treating conditions like retinitis pigmentosa.

A patent has been filed for this technology, but the next phase of testing will involve using a larger replica to explore the potential for it recognise different colours and potentially even shapes and symbols. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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