Oxford University researchers develop synthetic, soft tissue retina

In a development that could offer fresh hope to visually impaired people, Oxford University researchers have developed a synthetic, soft tissue retina, PTI reports.

Until now, artificial retinas had only been made from hard, rigid materials and the new research was the first to successfully use biological, synthetic tissues developed in a laboratory environment.

According to commentators, the study could revolutionise the bionic implant industry and pave the way for the development of new, less invasive technologies that more closely resembled human body to help treat some degenerative eye conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa (a group of rare, genetic disorders that involve a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina).

The retina, which sat at the back of the human eye, contained protein cells that converted light into electrical signals that traveled through the nervous system. The signals triggered a response from the brain, ultimately building a picture of the scene being viewed.

The synthetic retina developed by the Oxford team consisted of soft water droplets (hydrogels) and biological cell membrane proteins. The retina had so far only been tested in laboratory conditions.

A similar soft tissue retina that closely mimicked the natural retinal process had been developed by scientists from the University of Oxford.

 ''The human eye is incredibly sensitive, which is why foreign bodies like metal retinal implants can be so damaging, leading to inflammation and/or scarring. But a biological synthetic implant is soft and water-based, so much more friendly to the eye environment,'' said lead researcher Vanessa Restrepo-Schild from Oxford University.

''The synthetic material can generate electrical signals, which stimulate the neurons at the back of our eye just like the original retina,'' Restrepo-Schild said.