Leading research scientists from the Stanford University, California have made a major leap forward with the development of a ‘light powered’ bionic eye.
Previously any such devices, known as retinal implants, have required separate batteries to enable them to function. Obviously this has a number of drawbacks.
Now this new device will one day offer much hope to sufferers of the age related diseases that actually destroy the light detecting cells at the back of the eye. This leads to blindness. These are diseases such as macular degeneration and retinal pigmentosa.
New Retinal Implant Overcomes many Limitations
Details of this new device have been published in Nature Photonics and it appears to have solved a number of the limitations that come with earlier retinal implant devices.
These cleverly designed implants are made to stimulate the light receiving cells at the back of the eye, which helps some patients.
In place of batteries this new device is powered by photo voltaic cells. They receive a special wavelength of light which is produced by specially designed glasses. These glasses beam near infrared light directly into the eye.
Because of the developmental nature of the product, detailed information of some key aspects are still thin on the ground. Perhaps one reason is that testing of these latest devices has only been carried out on rats so far.
However the team behind the developments did say “Because the photovoltaic implant is thin and wireless, the surgical procedure is much simpler than in other retinal prosthetic approaches.
The technology involved certainly is cutting edge and is very impressive. For example, in practice the scene that is occurring directly in front of the user is recorded with a miniature video camera. Then a beam of light relays that information directly onto the retinal chip situated at the back of the eye. This creates a signal which is then sent to the relevant nerves.
The pioneering researchers behind all of this followed on to say “Such a fully integrated wireless implant promises the restoration of useful vision to patients blinded by degenerative retinal diseases.”
Prof MacLaren, who fitted the first implant in the UK at the Oxford Eye Hospital of an earlier device, said:
“It’s the first time that British patients who were completely blind have been able to see something.
“In previous studies of restorative vision involving stem cells and other treatments, patients always had some residual sight.
“Here the patients had no light perception at all but the implant reactivated their retina after more than a decade.”
Speaking of this previous trial: Nick Astbury, Chair of VISION 2020 UK, a global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness said “This trial will bring hope to two million blind and partially-sighted people living in the UK. It is the first step on a long journey to help people with sight loss to see again and live independently”.
We look forward to seeing more developments over the next few years. The benefits could make a huge difference to a lot of people.