Biohybrid artificial retina aims to restore vision using living cells
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a debilitating condition that can lead to total blindness in its later stages. Now, researchers have created a new potential treatment for the currently incurable disease – a biohybrid artificial retina, made of silk and loaded with new human cells that can integrate and repair the damage.
AMD is a common cause of blindness among older people, where sight begins to blur in the center of the visual field. Currently there’s no way to restore vision once it’s lost, but there are treatments to slow down the progression of symptoms, and there are more experimental solutions, such as artificial retinas, bionic eye transplants and gene therapy, in development.
And now, Spanish scientists have developed a new type of artificial retina that could mesh more easily with the human eye. The device is made up of several layers of retinal cells, held together with silk fibroin films and encased in a protective gel. Ultimately, the idea would be to surgically implant these devices into the eyes of AMD patients to restore their vision.
The cell types include retinal neurons, which are those that detect light; retinal pigment epithelium, which nourish the neurons; Müller glia, which support the neurons; and mesenchymal stem cells, which can help the implanted cells integrate with the patient’s own. Altogether, this structure is designed to help the neurons grow and develop, patching up the damage caused by the disease.
The team tested these biohybrid retinas in lab cultures over seven days, and found that the neurons survived and grew, sprouting neurites – the beginnings of connections that pass signals between cells.
It’s a promising start, but of course it’s very early days – the biohybrid retina has yet to be tested in animals, let alone humans. That said, similar artificial retinas, using synthetic particles, have already shown exciting results in animal tests.
The research was published in the Journal of Neural Engineering.