Artificial retina using synthetic and biological materials

A synthetic, soft tissue retina made of hydrogels and biological cell membrane proteins was developed by an Oxford University student Vanessa Restrepo-Schild. Research involved combining biological and synthetic tissues in a laboratory. Designed like a camera, the aqueous droplets containing bacteriorhodopsin (bR), a light-driven proton pump act as pixels, detecting and reacting to light to generate electrical signals, which can stimulate the neurons with resulting output recognized in grey scale.

The retina replica consists of soft water droplets (hydrogels) and biological cell membrane proteins.
Credit: Oxford University

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, shows that unlike existing artificial retinal implants, the cell-cultures are created from natural, biodegradable materials and do not contain foreign bodies or living entities. In this way the implant is less invasive than a mechanical devise, and is less likely to have an adverse reaction on the body.

This research could revolutionize the bionic implant industry with development of new, less invasive technologies that more closely resemble human body tissues, helping to treat degenerative eye conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa.

Currently synthetic retina has only been tested in laboratory conditions and further research is needed to see viability of this technology.

Miss Restrepo-Schild has filed a patent for the technology and the next phase of the work will see the Oxford team expand the replica’s function to include recognising different colours. Working with a much larger replica, the team will test the material’s ability to recognise different colours and potentially even shapes and symbols. Looking further ahead the research will expand to include animal testing and then a series of clinical trials in humans.

Citation:¬†Schild, Vanessa Restrepo, Michael J. Booth, Stuart J. Box, Sam N. Olof, Kozhinjampara R. Mahendran, and Hagan Bayley. “Light-Patterned Current Generation in a Droplet Bilayer Array.” Scientific Reports 7 (2017): 46585. doi:10.1038/srep46585.
Adapted from press release by the Oxford University.