Israel Develops Retinal Implant

An Israeli company is featured in the Wall Street Journal for restoring the sight of patients who have lost vision due to retinal disease, such as macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa or diabetic retinitis.

Herzliya-based Nano Retina has developed a two-part system to replace the function of a retina which has been damaged by macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and other diseases. Called Bio-Retina, the device consists of an implant and set of glasses which coordinate to restore lost sight. The operation to install the electrode-laden implant takes a mere half hour under local anesthetic.

The bionic implant does the work of the eye’s photoreceptors, which normally turn light into electrical signals sent to the brain. The Bio-Retina transforms the light into the electrical signals, which then travel to the brain.

After applying a local anesthetic, a surgeon makes a small — about a centimeter — incision in the cornea and uses biological glue to attach the Bio-Retina implant on top of the damaged retina. The procedure takes about half an hour.

“The interface between the retina and the photoreceptors [is created] by very tiny electrodes” 3 to 4 microns in size, Nano-Retina’s Yossi Gross says. “When the light … goes to the retina, it enters the Bio-Retina implant.” The implant then closes the vision loop, transforming the light into the electrical signals that reach the brain and create sight.

“The current plan is for gray-scale vision, more than just black and white. We believe that this high-resolution technology can bring us closer to color vision down the road.”

Previous artificial retinas have a resolution of 10 x 10. The Bio-Retina’s resolution is up to 72 x 72.

Powering the implant wirelessly is a tiny infrared laser that sits on a pair of eyeglasses that the patient wears. The glasses also carry normal corrective lenses for those who would need them.

For now, Bio-Retina works in gray-scale, but is expected to be developed for color vision. It is currently estimated at $60,000.

Nano Retina may begin tests on U.S. patients in 2013, thanks to a grant by U.S.-Israel industrial cooperation group Bi-National R&D Foundation, according to the Journal.


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