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Researchers Develop Prosthetic Retina Able to Restore Sight in Mice PDF
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Ophthalmology and Optometry
Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Retinal ProstheticNeuroscientists have been able to create a prosthetic retina that was able to partially restore the sight to blind mice. The device could be eventually adapted to do the same in human patients. Twenty million people worldwide have become blind due to the degeneration of their retinas, which from the back of the eye converts light into a neural signal.

Current prosthetics are still very limited in the vision that they provide: for example, they allow for perception of spots of light and high-contrast edges, but not natural images. Efforts to improve prosthetic capabilities have focused largely on increasing the resolution of the device’s stimulators (either electrodes or optogenetic transducers). Neuroscientists of Cornell University in New York showed that a second factor is also critical: driving the stimulators with the retina’s neural code. Using the mouse as a model system, they generated a prosthetic system that incorporates the code. This dramatically increased the system’s capabilities—well beyond what can be achieved just by increasing resolution. Furthermore, the results showed, using 9,800 optogenetically stimulated ganglion cell responses, that the combined effect of using the code and high-resolution stimulation is able to bring prosthetic capabilities into the realm of normal image representation.

They published their findings in the journal PNAS. They began the process by injecting nerve cells into the retinas of mice with a genetically engineered virus, which was designed to insert a gene that causes the cells to produce a light-sensitive protein normally found in algae. Once a beam of light was shown to the eye, this protein trigged the nerve cells to send signals to the brain, which is analogous to what a healthy rod and cone cell does.