Preserving, improving, and restoring eyesight has been a daunting challenge that researchers haven’t shied away from, despite the obstacles it presents. The few methods that are presently available at combating conditions like retinal degeneration have been practical, but invasive to patients. The conventional solutions involve inserting an external device that embeds wires in the back of a patient’s eyes. Although procedures like this address retinal issues to a certain degree, they come at the expense of great discomfort to patients, some of which need long adjustment periods for their new surgical modifications.
The cumbersome inconveniences of these optical procedures can soon change with a new retinal implant that researchers are currently developing. Made with biocompatible light-sensitive material, this new implant is said to (at the very least) partially restore retinas and preserve a patient’s eyesight. The retinal implant utilizes a combination of silk, a conductive polymer, and organic semiconductor to send electricity to nerve cells when the implant is exposed to light.
While past attempts at developing photovoltaic devices only responded under extremely bright light or unusual wavelengths, the initial experiments on this organic retinal implant have had encouraging but limited results during early testing. When these implants were applied to live test subjects (rats) suffering from retinal degeneration, the rodents didn’t show any improvement in low-light conditions, but responded almost as good as test subjects with healthy vision under conditions with brighter light.
The test subjects were able to keep the implants in their eyes up to six months without experiencing any tissue inflammation due to the organic makeup of the devices. Despite the nature of responses recorded during these first sets of tests, there are still a lot of unanswered questions that remain.
Researchers still aren’t certain how the implant’s electrical charges turn into nerve responses or how much vision the implants are truly able to restore as well. Despite the test subject’s reactions to light, the implants don’t necessarily give the same overall quality of eyesight they had before retinal degeneration occurred, which is something else that scientists are aiming at improving.
Nonetheless, these new implants are a step in the right direction. Even if they (currently) aren’t able to fully restore the quality of someone’s vision before they began suffering from retinal degeneration, these new implants would at least be able to provide basic visionary qualities to people who would otherwise wind up going blind from retinal degeneration.
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)