The future for vision prosthetics has gained momentum thanks to new technological developments, including an artificial retina and a “bionic eye.”1-4

Nanshu Lu, PhD, from the University of Texas at Austin, and her collaborator Dae-Hyeong Kim, PhD, from Seoul National University, have successfully tested a so-called ‘ultrathin’ artificial retina and presented it at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

Their team engineered the human eye-inspired soft implantable optoelectronic device using graphene structures (thin sheets of carbon) that conform to the retina. The curved image sensor array exhibits infrared blindness and successfully acquires pixelated optical signals.1 The researchers propose the sensor array as a promising imaging element for use in a soft implant that adds minimal mechanical loading to the retina.

“Although this research is still in its infancy, it is a very exciting starting point for the use of these materials to restore vision,” Dr. Lu said in a statement.2 The researchers hope the device could someday restore sight to the millions of people with retinal diseases.2

Another display of technological prowess comes from a research team at the University of Minnesota. Michael McAlpine, PhD, and his team successfully 3D printed an array of light receptors on a hemispherical surface using a semiconducting polymer ink capable of energy-efficient photodetection. The first steps toward a “bionic eye,” the devices are integrated into image-sensing arrays with high sensitivity and wide field of view by 3D printing interconnected photodetectors directly on flexible materials.3

Dr. McAlpine says the next steps are to create a prototype with more light receptors that are even more efficient.4 The team would also like to find a way to print on a soft hemispherical material that can be implanted into the eye. They hope the technology could someday help blind people see or visually impaired people see better.4

1. EurekAlert. A new generation of artificial retinas based on 2D materials. August 20, 2018. Accessed August 31, 2018. 
2. American Chemical Society. A new generation of artificial retinas based on 2D materials. August 20, 2018. Accessed August 31, 2018.
3. Park SH, Su R, Jeong J, et al. 3D printed polymer photodetectors. Adv Mater. August 28, 2018. [Epub ahead of print].
4. University of Minnesota. Research brief: researchers 3D print prototype for ‘bionic eye’. August 28, 2018. Accessed August 31, 2018.