A synthetic, soft tissue retina developed by Oxford University researchers mimics the natural human retinal process. It consists of soft water droplets (hydrogels) and biological cell membrane proteins.
The retina sits at the back of the human eye and contains protein cells that convert light into electrical signals that travel through the nervous system, triggering a response from the brain, ultimately building a picture of the scene being viewed.
The new research is the first to successfully use biological, synthetic tissues developed in a laboratory environment. Until now, artificial retinas have only been made from hard, rigid materials.
The study could revolutionize the bionic implant industry and researchers believe that the study could lead to development of new, less invasive technologies that more closely resemble human body tissues, helping to treat degenerative eye conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa.
“The human eye is incredibly sensitive, which is why foreign bodies like metal retinal implants can be so damaging, leading to inflammation and/or scarring. But a biological synthetic implant is soft and water-based, so much more friendly to the eye environment,” said lead researcher Vanessa Restrepo-Schild from Oxford University.
“The synthetic material can generate electrical signals, which stimulate the neurons at the back of our eye just like the original retina,” Ms. Restrepo-Schild said.
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.