Another milestone is going to be achieved in the field of opthomology. Retina is the photo sensory part of the eye that detects light and sends signals to occipital lobe of brain through optic nerve and optic track. Damage to retina cause complete blindness. It is the common cause of blindness and there is no effective treatment available.
Some of the major causes of damage are
- Stress related
- Inflammatory diseases such as crohns disease and rheumatoid arthritis
- Retinitis pigmentosa
- Macular degeneration
- Destruction of rods and cons (Photo-receptors)
- Vitamin A deficiency
Retina may get detached due to following conditions.
- Age related (Common in people over age 50)
- Retinal detachment in other eye
- Inflammatory diseases
Artificial retinal has been implanted successfully in animal specimens. This is the first ever organic retina made up of carbon polymer and is developed by an Italian institute of Technology researchers. This new invention has given hopes to almost two million blind people around the world. This may be an answer for patients of retinitis pigmentosa and other degenerative diseases like diabetic retinopathy. Researchers are hopeful to start human trials in mid of 2018.
It is made up of thin carbon polymer that is biocompatible, organic and will work as photovoltaic device. Science Alert explains:
“The implant is made from a thin layer of conductive polymer, placed on a silk-based substrate and covered with a semiconducting polymer. The semiconducting polymer acts as a photovoltaic material, absorbing photons when light enters the lens of the eye. When this happens, electricity stimulates retinal neurons; filling in the gap left by the eyes natural but damaged photoreceptors.
A bionic eye has been already been in play that consists of a camera and an implant. Implant is present on the retina with 60 electrodes that receives visual signals collected by camera and stimulates cells on the retina, more specifically the macula. This information is then processed through different layers of the retina and transfers to the occipital lobe of the brain through normal visual pathway. Another proposed treatment is the gene editing technology.
Director of Centre for Nanoscience and Technology at the Italian Institute of Technology, Guglielmo Lanzani, remarked:
“The use of this semiconductor organic material was crucial to address a number of issues. Being organic, this material is soft, light and flexible, provides an excellent biocompatibility, also avoiding complications to surrounding tissues, thus ensuring long-term functioning.
“Moreover, organic polymers can transmit electronic and ionic impulses without dispersing too much heat, which could cause additional damage to a retina which is already experiencing a degenerative process.”
Animal experiments has already been done and results were pretty good. According to animal experiment’s results, this organic retina can stimulate remaining healthy retinal cells and helps in restoring vision. Organic retinal implant can work for almost six months without causing any inflammatory reaction and can improve pupillary reflex, metabolic and electrical responses and also visual acuity.
Fabio Benfenati, director of Center for Synaptic Neuroscience and Technology at the Italian Institute of Technology, commented:
“This approach is an important alternative to the methods we have used so far to restore neuron photoreceptive capacity. As compared to the two models of artificial retina currently available which are based on silicon technology, our prototype has a number of advantages including marked tolerabiility, long duration and fully autonomy of functioning. with no need for an external power source.
“These ‘structural’ advantages are accompanied by restored visual function and not only in terms of light sensitivity, but also in terms of visual acuity and metabolic activity of visual cortex.”
Next milestone is to carry out experiments in pigs because they have similar eyes to those of humans. After that trials on human subjects will start.
Grazia Pertile, an ophthalmologist at Italy’s Sacred Heart Don Calabria and a member of the research team, noted:
“We hope to replicate in humans the excellent results obtained in animal models. We plan to carry out the first human trials in the second half of this year and gather preliminary results during 2018. This [implant] could be a turning point in the treatment of extremely debilitating retinal diseases.
The question stills stand. Is this really worth it? Is it really an achievement? Who knows? May be it will help millions of blind people who are dying to see this beautiful world one last time. We should hope for best.