Researchers develop synthetic soft retina

The replica is made of hydrogels and cell membrane proteins

Scientists from the University of Oxford have developed a synthetic, soft tissue retina that closely mimics the natural retinal process.

The researchers believe that their efforts could lead to the development of less invasive products that closely resemble human body tissues, helping to treat degenerative eye conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa. The condition changes how the retina responds to light, causing people to slowly lose vision.

Until now, artificial retinal research has used mostly rigid, hard materials.

“The human eye is incredibly sensitive, which is why foreign bodies like metal retinal implants can be so damaging, leading to inflammation and/or scarring. But a biological synthetic implant is soft and water-based, so much more friendly to the eye environment,” said lead researcher Vanessa Restrepo-Schild from Oxford University.

Just as photography depends on camera pixels reacting to light, vision relies on the retina performing the same function.

The retina sits at the back of the human eye, and contains protein cells that convert light into electrical signals that travel through the nervous system, triggering a response from the brain, ultimately building a picture of the scene being viewed.

The synthetic, double-layered retina replica consists of soft water droplets (hydrogels) and biological cell membrane proteins.

Designed like a camera, the cells act as pixels, detecting and reacting to light to create a grey scale image.

“The synthetic material can generate electrical signals, which stimulate the neurons at the back of our eye just like the original retina,” Ms. Restrepo-Schild said. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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