By Adrian Galbreth
Thousands of people across the globe who are currently living in darkness could soon be able to see thanks to the efforts of experts in Scotland.
Researchers from the University of Strathclyde, in association with specialists from Stanford University in California, have developed a new prosthetic retina for patients with age related macular degeneration (AMD), which affects one in 500 people aged between 55 and 64 and one in eight over the age of 85.
According to the expert, the device would be simpler in design and operation than existing models and acts by electrically stimulating neurons in the retina, which are left relatively unaffected by AMD, while other 'image capturing' cells, known as photoreceptors, are lost.
Unlike most prosthetic retinas, which are powered through coils that require complex surgery to be implanted, the device would work by using a form of video goggles to deliver energy and images directly to the eye and be operated remotely via pulsed near infra-red light.
Dr Keith Mathieson, a Reader in the Institute of Photonics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow and first author of the study, explained that the prosthetic retina takes the form of a thin silicon device that converts pulsed near infra-red light to electrical current that stimulates the retina and elicits visual perception.
It requires no wires and would make surgical implantation simpler, and has produced encouraging responses in initial lab tests.
"AMD is a huge medical challenge and, with an aging population, is continuing to grow. This means that innovative, practical solutions are essential if sight is to be restored to people around the world with the condition," Dr Mathieson explained.
"The prosthetic retina we are developing has been partly inspired by cochlear implants for the ear but with a camera instead of a microphone and, where many cochlear implants have a few channels, we are designing the retina to deal with millions of light sensitive nerve cells and sensory outputs."
Seeing as the implant is thin and wireless, it is easier to implant, and, as it receives information on the visual scene through an infra-red beam projected through the eye, the device can take advantage of natural eye movements that play a crucial role in visual processing.
The technology is now being developed further, with the aim of rolling it out worldwide for use by the millions of AMD sufferers around the planet.
by Alexa Kaczka