The Future of Vision – Artificial Retinas and More

We enjoy writing about the future of vision because the possibilities excite us. New inventions and clinical insights remind us that scientists and researchers are paying attention to vision and its vital role in life. The innovations and medical devices coming out of clinical research today can protect and improve sight, even for the legally blind. The breakthroughs of tomorrow promise to restore sight for the blind with groundbreaking implants.

A lot of work is focusing on the development of artificial retinas. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye. It is the part of the eye that converts light into impulses that travel to the brain. Those impulses are then interpreted as the images we see. Several major universities and companies that advance science and medical devices are working on solving blindness caused by diseases that impact the retina, like age-related Macular Degeneration, Retinitis Pigmentosa, and Stargardt’s disease. These advances have the potential for changing the lives of people of all ages. While age-related Macular Degeneration usually affects people age 60 or older, Stargardt’s disease can begin to rob the sight of children as young as seven years old.

Artificial retinas:
A team of experts at Tel Aviv University says it has made progress toward the development of a prosthetic retina. According to the university’s website, the researchers combined semiconductor nanorods and carbon nanotubes to create a wireless, light-sensitive, flexible film that could potentially replace a damaged retina. The researchers tested the new device with chick retinas that were not yet light sensitive to prove that the artificial retina is able to induce activity in response to light. University researchers say they believe that patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), will stand to benefit from the prosthetic retina once it is perfected.

Digital Journal recently reported on a tiny new implant developed by the University of California San Diego in collaboration with Nanovision Biosciences Inc. The report says nanotechnology and wireless electronics created a new type of retinal prosthesis, with the aim of restoring the ability of the retina to respond to light. The focus of scientists at UC San Diego is to restore sight lost due to neurodegenerative diseases, like the ones mentioned above, and diabetes.

Another important development is in the area of glaucoma. 
Glaucoma is one of the most common chronic eye diseases for seniors and is the leading cause of blindness for those over the age of 64. The disease damages the eye’s optic nerve. Usually fluid builds up in the front part of the eye, increasing pressure in the eye and damaging the nerve. It’s estimated that 11.2 million people will be blinded by glaucoma by the year 2020. That’s why any breakthrough that will treat glaucoma is so important.
The iStent was developed specifically for glaucoma and is being called the smallest implantable medical device in the world – smaller than the lettering on a penny. iStent was approved by the FDA, but only when it is implanted in conjunction with cataract surgery. Once the device is implanted, it is permanent.

These exciting breakthroughs represent the future of vision and the ability to restore it. We are constantly encouraged by these developments and the hope that it gives patients living with low vision.