A prosthetic retina to help people suffering from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is being developed by scientists in the U.S. This is only in the beginning stages.
Macular degeneration affects the macular, a tiny part of the retina at the back of the eye, and damages a layer of light sensitive photoreceptor cells that help the person see. Macular degeneration does not affect the peripheral vision, which means that the condition will not cause complete blindness.
Macular degeneration most commonly affects people who 50 and older, and is referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Around one in 500 people aged 55-64 have AMD, but that figure jumps to one in every eight person over the age of 85.
Now, scientists from the University of Strathclyde and Stanford University in California have developed a prosthetic retina to help combat the impact of AMD.
The device electronically stimulated the neurons in the retina left unscathed by AMD, and an infrared beam is projected through the eye and transmits information. It does not require any wires and is easy to implant.
Writing in the journal Nature Photonics, the researcher say that initial lab tests of the prostheses have been encouraging. Dr Keith Mathieson, from Strathclyde University and a lead researcher on the project, said:
“AMD is a huge medical challenge and, with an ageing population, is continuing to grow.”
This means that innovative, practical solutions are essential if sight is to be restored to people around the world with the condition.
“The prosthetic retina we are developing has been partly inspired by cochlear implants for the ear but with a camera instead of a microphone and where many cochlear implants have a few channels, we are designing the retina to deal with millions of light-sensitive nerve cells and sensory outputs.
“The implant is thin and wireless and so is easier to implant. Since it receives information on the visual scene through an infrared beam projected through the eye, the device can take advantage of natural eye movements that play a crucial role in visual processing.”
While there is currently no cure for AMD, there are therapies available that can slow the disease or even restore vision. If this device proves successful, patients with health insurance may be covered for it on their policy in the future. This will need to go through clinical trials.