Posted on May 08, 2017, 6 a.m.
24 year old student is the first to create the world's first soft tissue for the visually impaired.
A research team from Oxford University led by 24-year-old student Vanessa Restrepo-Schild has been the first to use soft synthetic tissues developed in a lab that closely mimics the human retina. All previous research in this field could only use artificial hard materials. This new less invasive procedure could transform bionic implant technologies with synthetic tissues that can replace human body parts. The double layered synthetic retina could help treat degenerative eye diseases like retinitis pigmentosa and offers new hope for the visually impaired. The groundbreaking study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Synthetic Implant Made of Biodegradable Materials
According to Vanessa Restrepo-Schild, she was always fascinated with the human body and aimed to develop synthetic tissues that do not require living cells. Instead of using wasteful artificial implants, she envisions technology to enable the use of soft biodegradable materials. She wants to replicate the function of human tissues with natural synthetic components that can sense sound, touch, and light.
The retina replica is made of hydrogels (soft water droplets) and proteins from biological cell membranes. Like a camera with light sensitive pixels, the synthetic retina uses protein cells that detect light. These are then turned into electrical signals that the brain uses to build a gray scale image. The hope is to design the synthetic retina to replicate the original retina of a patient.
The study shows that it is possible to create synthetic components from biodegradable materials containing no living cells. Unlike mechanical devices, synthetic implants are more likely to be accepted by the human body without adverse reactions. The human eye is very sensitive and a synthetic implant is preferred instead of metal implants which can lead to scarring or inflammation.
Expanding the Abilities of the Bionic Retina
The bionic retina has only been developed in the lab, but Restrepo-Schild has plans to explore the potential of this new technology. This includes expanding her work to experiment on different living tissues. This vital step will verify the function of bionic implants before animal and human tests can begin.
A patent has been filed for the synthetic retina and Miss Restrepo-Schild and her Oxford team will begin work on a larger synthetic retina that will detect a palette of colors instead of just black and white. The team is hopeful that the new retina will be able to recognize different shapes and even symbols. The next step is to verify the technology on animals before clinical trials start on humans.
Vanessa Restrepo Schild, Michael J. Booth, Stuart J. Box, Sam N. Olof, Kozhinjampara R. Mahendran, Hagan Bayley. Light-Patterned Current Generation in a Droplet Bilayer Array. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7: 46585 DOI: 10.1038/srep46585