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Eye retina implant can restore vision

  |   May 14, 2012 at 4:49 PM
PALO ALTO, Calif., May 14 (UPI) -- Tiny solar-panel-like cells implanted in the eye may someday restore sight to people blinded by certain types of degenerative eye diseases, U.S. scientists say.

Researchers at Stanford University said goggles equipped with a miniature camera display images on a liquid crystal microdisplay embedded in the glasses, similar to what's used in video goggles for gaming.

The images would be beamed from the LCD into the eyes using laser pulses of near-infrared light to a photovoltaic silicon chip -- one-third as thin as a strand of hair -- implanted beneath the retina, a Stanford release reported.

Electric currents from the chip would then trigger signals in the retina which would flow to the brain, enabling a patient to regain vision, researchers said.

"It works like the solar panels on your roof, converting light into electric current," professor of ophthalmology Daniel Palanker said. "But instead of the current flowing to your refrigerator, it flows into your retina."

Using near-infrared light to transmit images avoids the need for any wires and cables inside the eye, as some other experimental implants require, making the device thin and easily implantable, researchers said.

"The current implants are very bulky, and the surgery to place the intraocular wiring for receiving, processing and power is difficult," Palanker said.

The Stanford device has virtually all of the hardware incorporated externally into the goggles, he said.

"The surgeon needs only to create a small pocket beneath the retina and then slip the photovoltaic cells inside it," he said.

The proposed prosthesis is intended to aid people suffering from retinal degenerative diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration, the foremost cause of vision loss in North America, the researchers said.

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