To restore vision in patients who lost their photoreceptors due to retinal degeneration, we developed a photovoltaic subretinal prosthesis which converts light into pulsed electric current, stimulating the nearby inner retinal neurons. Visual information is projected onto the retina by video goggles using pulsed near-infrared (~900nm) light. This design avoids the use of bulky electronics and wiring, thereby greatly reducing the surgical complexity. Optical activation of the photovoltaic pixels allows scaling the implants to thousands of electrodes, and multiple modules can be tiled under the retina to expand the visual field.
We found that similarly to normal vision, retinal response to prosthetic stimulation exhibits flicker fusion at high frequencies (>20Hz), adaptation to static images, and non-linear summation of subunits in the receptive fields. Photovoltaic arrays with 70um pixels restored visual acuity up to a single pixel pitch, which is only two times lower than natural acuity in rats. If these results translate to human retina, such implants could restore visual acuity up to 20/250. With eye scanning and perceptual learning, human patients might even cross the 20/200 threshold of legal blindness. In collaboration with Pixium Vision, we are preparing this system (PRIMA) for a clinical trial. To further improve visual acuity, we are developing smaller pixels – down to 40um, and on 3-D interface to improve proximity to the target neurons. Scalability, ease of implantation and tiling of these wireless modules to cover a large visual field, combined with high resolution opens the door to highly functional restoration of sight.
Daniel V. Palanker, "Photovoltaic restoration of sight in rodents with retinal degeneration (Conference Presentation)," Proc. SPIE 10052, Optogenetics and Optical Manipulation, 100520I (Presented at SPIE BiOS: January 29, 2017; Published: 19 April 2017); https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2250427.5371339433001.
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