The study, published in Scientific Reports, shows that unlike existing artificial retinal implants, the cell cultures are created from natural, biodegradable materials and do not contain foreign bodies or living entities. In this way, the implant is less invasive than a mechanical device, and is less likely to have an adverse reaction on the body. Miss Restrepo-Schild adds: “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.”
Of the motivation behind her ground-breaking study, Miss Restrepo-Schild says: “I have always been fascinated by the human body, and want to prove that current technology could be used to replicate the function of human tissues, without having to actually use living cells.
“I have taken the principals behind vital bodily functions, e.g. our sense of hearing, touch and the ability to detect light, and replicated them in a laboratory environment with natural, synthetic components. I hope my research is the first step in a journey towards building technology that is soft and biodegradable instead of hard and wasteful.”
Although at present the synthetic retina has only been tested in laboratory conditions, Miss Restrepo-Schild is keen to build on her initial work and explore potential uses with living tissues. This next step is vital in demonstrating how the material performs as a bionic implant.
Restrepo-Schild has filed a patent for the technology and the next phase of work will expand the replica’s function to include recognising colours and potentially even shapes and symbols. Looking further ahead, the team will begin to include animal testing and then a series of clinical trials in humans.