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A team of neuroscientists and materials scientists has shown that a photovoltaic polymer can restore light-sensing capabilities to damaged retinas, offering hope of a simple way to restore vision to many people with degenerative eye disease.

People with retinitis pigmentosa and some forms of macular degeneration lose their sight because their photoreceptor cells—the light-detecting rods and cones in their retinas—stop working or die. The new work, conducted by scientists from the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa and published on Sunday in the journal Nature Photonics, suggests that incorporating the organic polymer into the retinas of people with such conditions could one day help solve this problem. The polymer, which converts light into electrical stimulation, does not require the power supply that’s been necessary with other artificial retina prosthetics.

Other groups have developed retinal implants—electrode arrays that replace the function of the missing cells (see “Microchip Restores Vision” and “Bionic Eye Implant Approved for U.S. Patients”). But these systems offer limited resolution and depend on stiff microchips that can’t conform to the curvature of the inner eye.

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