A new type of artificial eye system could one day restore sight to people who have lost their vision due to degenerative eye diseases such as macular degeneration, according to the results of research with rats.
The system uses tiny solar panel-like cells that are surgically placed beneath the retina, along with a specially designed pair of goggles equipped with a miniature camera, and a pocket PC that processes the visual data, the Stanford University School of Medicine team explained.
Visual images are displayed on a liquid crystal microdisplay embedded in the goggles, similar to what's used in video goggles for gaming. The images are beamed from the liquid crystal display to the cells implanted in the retina, which then sends the images to the brain.
The research is published online in the journal Nature Photonics.
How the device works
"It works like the solar panels on your roof, converting light into electric current. But instead of the current flowing to your refrigerator, it flows into your retina," senior study author Daniel Palanker, an associate professor of ophthalmology, said in a Stanford news release.
The scientists are currently testing the system in rats and are seeking a sponsor to support tests in humans. Research that seems promising in animal studies often fails to offer similar benefits to humans.
The researchers hope their system can eventually help people with retinal degenerative diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in North America and about 1.5 million people worldwide have lost their sight due to retinitis pigmentosa, according to the nonprofit group Foundation Fighting Blindness.
Living with eye problems