Wireless Rechargeable Retinal Implants Could Help Restore Sight [VIDEO]
Researchers at Stanford University are designing a new device that could help people with degenerative eye diseases restore their vision — by implanting a photovoltaic silicon chip beneath their retinas.
With degenerative eye diseases, the retina’s light-sensing cells die off, though the rest of the eye remains healthy.
Photovoltaic devices (and the retina) work by generating an electric current from light energy. This new type of retinal prosthesis would work by injecting that current into the retina. You’d wear a specially designed pair of goggles containing a miniature camera, connected to a pocket PC. The goggles would take the images you’re seeing and display them on a liquid crystal microdisplay (LCD) embedded in the googles.
It’s similar to the way video goggles for gaming work, except that the images would actually be beamed from the LCD into the photovoltaic silicon chip implanted beneath your retina using near-infrared light. This helps create the current necessary to stimulate the nerves — thus allowing you to see.
As stated in the Stanford Scope Blog, it’s this use of the near-infrared light that sets Stanford’s product apart from others on the market:
“While similar devices require coils, cables or antennas inside the eye to transmit power and information to the retinal implant, the Stanford device uses near-infrared light to deliver images, making the device thin and easily implantable.”
So by using the near-infrared light, any external power supply is actually unnecessary. The implants will be able to continuously recharge using the energy provided by the incoming light. According to Daniel Palanker, PhD, associated professor of opthalmology and senior author of the paper covering the study of the device, it’s analogous to solar energy:
“It works like the solar panels on your roof, converting light into electric current,” Palanker said. “But instead of the current flowing to your refrigerator, it flows into your retina.”
Ambient light alone is not enough to recharge the implants, though — that’s why researchers are envisioning the laser beam and the PC-embedded goggles.
It will take a few years for the device to go through clinical trials. Stanford is currently completing safety testing.