Engineers restoring sight to the blind


Dr Matthew Griffith with his artificial retina. Picture credit: Sydney University

Scientists believe they have created a printable retina that could one day be used to restore sight to blind people.

University of Sydney researcher Dr Matthew Griffith and his team are developing a 3D printable insert that uses reactive inks to convert light to electrical signals in the eye.

Researchers say the soft, carbon-based device is much more biocompatible with soft human tissue compared to hard, rigid silicone that is currently used.

Dr Griffith says that he began working on the contraption after he discovered that the human body, and particularly its neurons – which conduct signals – are carbon-based semiconductors.

“So, I started working on interfacing the carbon-based semiconductors we had used to convert light to electricity for solar cells, to see if the electricity could stimulate electrical signals in nerve cells.”

“We could extend this innovative spirit and instantly change the humble newspaper print line into a cutting-edge biomedical printing press to overcome one of the biggest challenges facing science in the 21st century; communicating with the human body using artificial technology,” Dr Griffith says.

Once fully developed, the device will be able to reactivate a lost nerve-cell connection, unfortunately not allowing those who have lost their retina function in other ways to be restored.

“Loss of sight is devastating,” Dr Griffith says.

“Worldwide, the number of people living with vision impairment is at least 2.2 billion and our research aims to provide a biomedical solution to those experiencing blindness from retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the second being one of the leading causes of blindness in the world.”

Dr Griffith and his team want to re-grow and re-activate the missing photoreceptor to retinal nerve cell links, leaving the brain to convert the signals as it always has in patients where these links are still fully functional.

“I do truly believe that interfacing with the body will be one of the greatest scientific challenges of the century, titling this as a translator between the digital and the biological world,” Dr Griffith says.