Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a major condition affecting the retinae of people 40 and above. If left untreated, AMD could lead to complete blindness. Although there's no cure for AMD just yet, two universities believe they've just created a retinal device that could totally revolutionize how doctors think about treating this potentially blinding disease.
First off, there's the team of researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa that have created a pair of artificial retinas showing great promise. The Italian researchers' prosthesis is designed to be placed in the back of a patient's eyes and works by converting light into an electrical signal to get the still-active retinal cells communicating with the brain.
Italian researchers recently put their prosthesis to the test on a group of rats with AMD. The researchers observed that the rats with the retina devices in their eyes started immediately responding to light. After six months, the rats with the prostheses in their eyes still showed an observable reaction to light. The professors published their entire study in Nature Materials under the title "A Fully Organic Retinal Prosthesis Restores Vision In A Rat Model Of Degenerative Blindness."
Eye doctors who read this Italian study were stunned. Dr. Kapil Bharti, an investigator at the National Eye Institute in Maryland, said that this prosthesis could potentially be a "game changer" in the medical industry. Dr. Bharti is hopeful that these retina devices could be used to give AMD patients suffering from blindness more independence in day-to-day tasks.
Grazia Pertile, the current director of ophthalmology at the Sacred Heart Don Calabria in Negrar, Italy, was instrumental in organizing and recording the data for this experiment. After looking over the data from this study, Dr. Pertile wrote that her team's research could represent a "turning point in the treatment" of AMD.
But it isn't only the Italians that are leading the way in treating AMD. Professors at the University of California, San Diego, are taking a high-tech approach to curing AMD with their retina implants. These implants use extremely small silicon nanowires to trigger the still-active retinal neurons into action. Amazingly, the researchers behind these retina implants say they can control them with a wireless device.
In recent tests, the San Diego team's prosthesis was able to help patients achieve "functional vision." They published their findings in the Journal of Neural Engineering under the title "Towards High-Resolution Retinal Prostheses With Direct Optical Addressing And Inductive Telemetry."
Unfortunately, both of these products aren't expected to be on the market anytime soon. Both tests are considered only experimental prototypes at this moment, and it'll probably take a few more years of testing before they can be used commercially.
While both of these retina implants are extremely impressive, both of them aren't able to restore color vision to their patients. Some doctors also have reservations about the durability of these eye implants.
Despite these minor quibbles, ophthalmologists around the world were excited to hear about these experiments. With time, eye doctors believe these implants could dramatically improve the lives of the 170 million AMD sufferers around the world.