Researchers restore light sensitivity to retina using polymer-based optoelectronic interface

March 18, 2013 by Bob Yirka, report
The photoreceptor layer is replaced in the degenerate retina by the organic polymer. Credit: doi:10.1038/nphoton.2013.34

( —A team of researchers in Italy has successfully demonstrated a means for restoring light sensitivity to a damaged rat retina by incorporating an inorganic polymer with nerve cells. In their paper published in the journal Nature Photonics, the team describes how they placed a damaged rat retina atop a glass substrate covered with a light sensitive polymer and then found that shining a light on the mix resulted in neural activity similar to that which occurs with a healthy retina.

This new research by the group follows up on research the team conducted two years ago, where they found that they could grow neurons on top of photovoltaic polymers. In this new effort, they placed the polymer poly(3-hexylthiophene) on a small sheet of glass then followed that up by placing a damaged extracted from a rat on top of it. Using the same techniques they'd discovered in their earlier work, they coaxed the cells into incorporating themselves with the polymer. Once that occurred, they shined a light on the result and found that occurred that was very similar to what happens with retinas that are not damaged.

The polymer used in the experiment is one of a class that is able to convert light into electricity without the need for any other power source. Such materials, the researchers believe, make them ideal candidates for use as a possible means of correcting vision problems in people with retina damage due to diseases such as macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa. In these cases, the rods and cones—photoreceptor cells—that make up the retina are damaged or destroyed slowly robbing their victim of sight. The idea with the new research is to see if photovoltaic polymers can be used to replace the damaged nerves, and thus restore vision.

In their experiments the researchers found the retina/polymer combination responded to what they describe as average daylight brightness levels indicting it might prove useful as a means of treating certain types of blindness. They caution however that they also observed that the combined material did not respond to the full range of brightness levels as seen by a healthy eye, though they suggest they believe more research will produce better results. The team next plans to implant their polymer optoelectronic interface into blind rats to see if it can restore vision and if so, how well.

Explore further: Zebrafish may hold the answer to repairing damaged retinas and returning eyesight to people

More information: A polymer optoelectronic interface restores light sensitivity in blind rat retinas, Nature Photonics (2013) doi:10.1038/nphoton.2013.34

Interfacing organic electronics with biological substrates offers new possibilities for biotechnology by taking advantage of the beneficial properties exhibited by organic conducting polymers. These polymers have been used for cellular interfaces in several applications, including cellular scaffolds, neural probes, biosensors and actuators for drug release. Recently, an organic photovoltaic blend has been used for neuronal stimulation via a photo-excitation process. Here, we document the use of a single-component organic film of poly(3-hexylthiophene) (P3HT) to trigger neuronal firing upon illumination. Moreover, we demonstrate that this bio–organic interface restores light sensitivity in explants of rat retinas with light-induced photoreceptor degeneration. These findings suggest that all-organic devices may play an important future role in subretinal prosthetic implants.

Related Stories

Scientists successfully awaken sleeping stem cells

March 18, 2008

Scientists at Schepens Eye Research Institute have discovered what chemical in the eye triggers the dormant capacity of certain non-neuronal cells to transform into progenitor cells, a stem-like cell that can generate new ...

Eye implants make vision-restoring progress

July 18, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- "I was blind once but now I can see.” The words are no longer the sole property of religious testimony and literature. Medical progress is being made in the restoration of vision as evidenced by Second ...

Altering eye cells may one day restore vision

January 25, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—Doctors may one day treat some forms of blindness by altering the genetic program of the light-sensing cells of the eye, according to scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Recommended for you

Information engine operates with nearly perfect efficiency

January 19, 2018

Physicists have experimentally demonstrated an information engine—a device that converts information into work—with an efficiency that exceeds the conventional second law of thermodynamics. Instead, the engine's efficiency ...

Team takes a deep look at memristors

January 19, 2018

In the race to build a computer that mimics the massive computational power of the human brain, researchers are increasingly turning to memristors, which can vary their electrical resistance based on the memory of past activity. ...

Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

January 19, 2018

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Mar 18, 2013
Sounds extremely promising, crossing all digits here for the in vivo tests. With so many significant breakthrough in this field in just the last 12 months there's real hope on the horizon now for prosthetically-restored high definition retinas..

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.