An Invention For The Visually Impaired

Ultra-thin Artificial Retinas: An Invention For The Visually Impaired
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Our world is constantly changing with the advancement of technology, which also affects our lives to a great extent. Healthcare is no exception: the healthcare process is influenced by various platforms, including the cloud, electronic medical records, patient portals and smartphone apps. And it is very clear that this trend will continue in the coming days. A number of researchers are currently and continuously developing innovative technologies that could change the healthcare scenario in the near future. In the following paragraphs, we have mentioned one of these recent health inventions, namely the discovery of the world’s first artificial retina.

Retinal diseases
Retinal diseases can be defined as conditions that affect the retina, a layer of tissue at the back of our eyes. This retina is made up of nerve cells that can receive visual information and send it to our brain.

Disorders of the retina can lead to serious eye problems and even vision loss, especially if they are not treated.

One of the most common retinal disorders is detachment of the retina from the eye, which can lead to sudden vision problems, such as blinking or spots in the vision. In other cases, people may suffer from diabetic retinopathy, which affects the blood vessels at the back of our eyes. Another retinal disease that mainly affects older people is macular degeneration, in which the centre of the retina deteriorates and central vision becomes blurred.

While a few years ago it seemed almost impossible to manufacture artificial retinas, we are now seeing an improvement in existing artificial retinas.
Indeed, patients will have access to an innovative version of artificial retinas made from 2D materials, which has taken the healthcare sector by storm.

It is a fact that researchers are increasingly interested in producing spare parts of the human body that can provide a safe solution to various types of health problems. Attempts are already being made to develop organs such as the kidney and liver, but the most important of these is the brain grown in the laboratory.

Nevertheless, it can certainly be expected that the artificial retinas invented not so long ago and made of 2D materials will take current visualisation technology to a completely new level, helping many people battling retinal diseases to regain their sight.
Scientists from Seoul National University (South Korea) and the University of Texas at Austin (USA) have succeeded in developing the world’s first ultra-thin artificial retina, which could successfully improve visualisation technology for the blind.

The material, made of flexible 2D materials, is capable of restoring the vision of many patients suffering from retinal diseases.

One of the creators of the artificial retina is Dr Nanshu Lu, who is also a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. According to her, this is the first time that the feasibility of using molybdenum disulfide and graphene to effectively produce artificial retinas has been demonstrated. Dr Lu added that this research is probably still in the early stages of successfully using these materials to restore vision.

Although retinal diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration are not curable, it is a fact that silicone retinal implants have been able to restore vision in some people to some extent. However, according to Lu, these devices are flat, fragile and rigid, making it quite difficult for them to mimic the natural curvature of the retina. As a result, silicone-based retinal implants can generate distorted images that can cause long-term damage to adjacent eye tissue.

Dr Nanshu Lu and his collaborator Dae-Hyeong Kim from Seoul National University planned to make a more flexible and thinner substitute for existing retinal devices that could better mimic the natural function and shape of a retina.

Both used 2D materials composed of molybdenum disulfide and graphene as well as thin layers of alumina, gold and silicon nitrate to produce the highly dense and flexible sensor technology. The retina has the ability to mimic the surface of a football when in a flattened state and can also effectively adapt to the shape and size of a natural retina without any drug interference.

While the device is being tested, light will be absorbed by photodetectors and transmitted by them through an external circuit board that includes all the necessary electronics to digitally process the light, stimulate the retina and also receive signals from the visual cortex. The scientists concluded that the prototype surface retina is biocompatible and successfully replicates all the structural features of the human eye. They believed that it would play an important role in the development of the next generation of bioelectronic retinal prostheses.

According to the researchers, the device could also be used in the future to effectively monitor brain and heart activity, but this may require some modification.
Currently, Dr Lu is trying to find different methods of integrating this technology into optically and mechanically imperceptible electronic tattoos laminated to the surface of the skin to provide real-time information about our health. It also plans to include transistors to help the transparent e-tattoos amplify signals from the heart or brain, allowing them to be easily monitored and processed. These electrodes and sensors can also be implanted on the surface of the heart to detect cardiac arrhythmias. She believes that doctors can program them to work like little pacemakers.

Let’s hope that further research into the graphene artificial retina will contribute to the emergence of another superpower in healthcare, namely restoring vision to people with visual impairments.

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