The possibility of making an artificial retina sounded impossible some years back, but today, we are talking of an upgrade on artificial retinas.
Yes, you heard that right, a new version of artificial retinas created on 2D materials will soon be available to patients, call it a new invention for human body spare parts and you’ll be right.
In fact, scientists are becoming more interested in developing human body spare parts to help solve health-related problems. Already there are attempts to grow organs like liver, the kidney– with the most enthralling of all being the lab-grown brain.
However, the newly discovered artificial retinas, which are based on 2D materials could skyrocket existing implantable visualization technology to new heights and might facilitate restoration of sight to millions of people with retinal disorders.
It is the World’s First Ultrathin Artificial Retina
As presented at the American Chemical Society (ACS) during the 256th National Meeting and Exposition, August 20, the researchers reported that they managed to successfully develop and test what they say is the first ever ultrathin artificial retina to be created.
The take is that this tech would be a great boost to the current visualization technology that is centered on restoring sight to the blind. Some of the reasons being, the device is super flexible, it is based on extremely thin 2D materials, it is biocompatible and easily mimics the structural features of the human eye.
With a few tweaks, it is also said that the device might be used to track the brain and heart activity for other medical related insights.
According to one of the researchers, Nanshu Lu, Ph.D., “despite the fact that this study is still in its infancy, it is the first to confirm that we can indeed use few-layer molybdenum disulfide and graphene to successfully fabricate a working artificial retina. That in theory proofs we can use these materials to safely restore vision, and not only that, the technique can assist to monitor heartbeat and brain activities.”
Biologically, the retina is located in the eye socket right behind the eye and it is layered with photoreceptors which light-sensitive cells or called rods and cones.
These rods and cones are what convert light into nerve signals that are then sent to the brain past the optic nerve for interpretation; that’s how visual images are perceived.
Visual Impairment Results from Retinal Tissues Damage
Now, the problem comes in when ailments such as diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, and retinitis end up damaging or destroying surrounding retinal tissue leading to vision impairment and sometimes total blindness.
Sadly, there is no cure for most of these illnesses in relation to their effects on the retina other than silicon-based retinal implants, which only restore partial vision to selected victims.
The New Artificial Retinas
Top on that, Lu says the current devices cannot replicate the natural shape of the retina because they are flat, rigid and fragile.
“In performance, that makes the silicon-based retinal implants present blurry or distorted images, as well as cause strain or damage to the optic nerve or surrounding eye tissue,” explained Lu a researcher at Texas University Austin, who teamed up with Dae-Hyeong Ph.D. Seoul National University. Their mission was to have a much flexible and thinner option that would mimic the curvature of the natural retina.
So using special 2D materials namely molybdenum disulfide and graphene together with thin layers of gold, silicon nitrate, and alumina, they managed to create curved high-density but flexible sensor array. The new artificial retinal conforms to the size and shape of the biological retina and doesn’t cause any mechanical discomfort in it.
In the near future, the researchers plan to integrate this technology with optically imperceptible electronic tattoos which can be placed on the skin to collect real-time health information.