A liquid artificial retinal prosthesis useful to counteract in the future the effects of diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration that lead to the progressive degeneration of the photoreceptors of the retina, causing blindness.
The idea was born from the collaboration between researchers of the Center for Synaptic Neuroscience and Technology of the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa coordinated by Fabio Benfenati and a team of the Center for Nano Science and Technology of the IIT in Milan, coordinated by Guglielmo Lanzani, with the Eye Clinic of the IRCCS Sacro Cuore Don Calabria Hospital in Negrar, directed by Dr. Grazia Pertile The multidisciplinary team also involves scientific partners such as the IRCCS Policlinico San Martino Hospital in Genoa and the CNR in Bologna. The study, published in the international journal Nature Nanotechnology, represents the state of the art in the field of retinal prostheses and an evolution of the planar artificial retina model developed by the same team in 2017. The biocompatible, high resolution “second generation” artificial retina model consisting of an aqueous component in which photoactive polymer nanoparticles made ad hoc in the IIT laboratories are suspended, approximately 1/100 of the diameter of a hair, which take the place of damaged photoreceptors. The natural light stimulation of the nanoparticles causes the activation of the retinal neurons spared from degeneration, thus mimicking the process which the photoreceptors of the retina are responsible for in healthy subjects.
How does it work
Compared to other existing approaches, the new liquid nature of the prosthesis ensures shorter and less traumatic interventions that consist of micro-injections of the nanoparticles directly under the retina, where they remain trapped taking the place of the degenerated photoreceptors, in addition to greater effectiveness. Experimental results show that the innovative technique represents a valid alternative to the methods used to date to restore the photoreceptive capacity of retinal neurons while preserving their spatial resolution, laying solid foundations for future human clinical studies. Furthermore, the development of these photosensitive nano-materials opens the way for new applications in the field of neuroscience and medicine.
The creation of a liquid artificial retina has great potential to ensure a wide field of vision and a high resolution vision. Enclosing the photoactive polymers in small particles smaller than the photoreceptors, increases the active surface of interaction with the retinal neurons, allows you to easily cover the entire surface of the retina and to scale the photoactivation at the single neuron level, says Fabio Benfenati, Director of the Center for Synaptic Neuroscience and Technology of the IIT of Genoa. In this work we applied nanotechnology to medicine – adds Guglielmo Lanzani, Director of the Center for Nano Science and Technology of the IIT in Milan -. In particular, we manufactured in the laboratory polymeric nanoparticles similar to balls of yarn that behave like tiny photovoltaic cells, based on carbon and hydrogen, fundamental components of the biochemistry of life. Nanoparticles form small aggregates of a size comparable to that of cells and actually act as artificial photoreceptors. The surgical procedure for the subretinal injection of minimally invasive and potentially replicable photoactive nanoparticles over time, unlike planar retinal prostheses – concludes Grazia Pertile, Director of the OCCS Unit of Ophthalmology at the IRCCS Sacro Cuore Don Calabria Hospital in Negrar -. All of this while maintaining the advantages of the polymer prosthesis, which is naturally sensitive to light entering the eye and does not require glasses, a camera or external energy sources.
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