Sightless

May 12, 2017
By Ella

A new hope for the blind is currently in the works. Scientists are testing a new artificial retinas on rats predisposed to blindness and the results that they’re getting are very promising, enough that human trials are scheduled for the last quarter of 2017.

The retinal implant works by converting light to a signal that triggers retinal neurons. This process is likely to give hope to a whole variety of patients with eye problems such as retinitis pigmentosa that damages photoreceptors in the eye eventually causing blindness.

Located behind the eye, millions of light-sensitive photoreceptor cells constitute what we know as the retina. Retinal degenerations such as retinitis pigmentosa happen when any of the hundreds of identified genes mutate progressively leading to the demise of these cells even when all the other neurons stay unaffected.

Previous approaches to dealing with such degenerations have looked at either using bionic eye devices that interact directly with the neurons or editing the genes directly in order to repair the blindness causing mutations.

The new study is being auctioned by the Italian Institute of Technology and aims to fix the problem by replacing a damaged retina with a prosthesis that will be implanted in the eye. The test subjects were a group of rats that were bred specifically to contract a rodent version of retinal degeneration. They were implanted with the artificial retina and left to heal for 30 days then tested for their light sensitivity along with regular healthy rats and ones in the same condition but without the implant.

The results revealed that at medium light intensities, rats with the implants fared far better than those without and were largely indistinguishable from healthy rats.

“We hope to replicate in humans the excellent results obtained in animal models,” Said a member of the research team “We plan to carry out the first human trials in the second half of this year and gather preliminary results during 2018. This [prosthesis] could be a turning point in the treatment of extremely debilitating retinal diseases.”