Can vision be restored with retinal implants? | Artificial retina implants

Blind people could see again with a prosthesis of thousands of electrodes connected to a wireless camera.

Will retinal implants restore vision
Will retinal implants restore vision

A tiny prosthesis implanted in the retina could restore vision in people with retinitis pigmentosa or age-related macular degeneration (AMD), two of the most common causes of blindness.

The implant is being developed by José A. Garrido, Icrea researcher at the Institut Català de Nanociència i Nanotecnologia (ICN2). With a size of about six by six millimetres, it will consist of thousands of graphite electrodes and be wirelessly connected to a camera that the person will wear on glasses.

In this way, the camera will capture what the eye would see and send the signal to the retina. There, the electrodes will convert the signal into stimuli that will be transmitted to the optic nerve. The signal will then reach the visual cortex of the brain, where the image will be perceived.

The idea has already been tested in rats, in which it has been verified that the visual cortex is activated as if they really saw images with their eyes. However, it is not yet known whether the quality of the image they perceive is equivalent to what a rat would see with healthy eyes.
Graphene electrode prostheses to implant in the retina developed in ICN2 to treat vision diseases (ICN2)
Graphene electrode prostheses to implant in the retina developed in ICN2 to treat vision diseases (ICN2)

Ongoing research, will retinal implants restore vision.

There are already experiments involving rats and there are plans to test the idea on pigs before it is made available to people. The next steps in the research include analysing the behaviour of rats to see if they act the same - or in a similar way - with retinal prostheses as with healthy eyes, which will indicate whether they have regained sufficient vision. It is then planned to extend the trials to pigs.

In the future, the technology is expected to be offered to people who have lost their vision.

To take the project forward, Garrido has partnered with Jeroni Nadal from the Barraquer Ophthalmology Centre, who will implant the prosthesis in animals; and the Institut de Física d'Altes Energies (IFAE), where the wireless communication system between the glasses and the implant has been designed; the Institut de Ciències Fotòniques (ICFO), where a technique has been developed to find out which retina cells are stimulated; and the Instituto de la Visión in Paris, a well known centre for retinal implants.