Bionic eye – Life/Tech News – scientists fashion eye implant from space-age material

Bionic eye – Life/Tech News – scientists fashion eye implant from space-age material – Statistical Data Included

Laura Allen

LAST JANUARY, University of Houston scientists announced an “eye opening” breakthrough: an implant that may cure some forms of blindness. The Houston team plans to start human trials of a new bionic eye–partly inspired by unmanned experiments aboard a NASA satellite. “We’re still not sure what patients will see,” says Dr. Alex Ignatiev, project lead scientist. But he hopes the implants will restore partial sight to some blind patients, letting them detect shapes and colors.

The “bionic eye” is designed to mimic a real retina, a 0.4 millimeter-thick screen of light-detecting cells called cones and rods that lines the back of the eye (see diagram). A healthy eye has millions of such cells, but age-related diseases can destroy them, resulting in 1.7 million cases of blindness each year in the U.S.

To mimic the complex retina, the implants were crafted from tiny slivers of a 2-micron-thick space-age material called lead-zirconium-titanium oxide. The material houses 100,000 light detectors, similar to a retina’s cone and rod cells; it’s painstakingly assembled atom by atom inside a perfect vacuum, a place with zero matter, including basic elements found in air, like oxygen.

The best place to find a vacuum? Space, of course. That’s where initial material research was conducted. Luckily, the implants can be constructed in laboratory vacuums on Earth. So far, researchers have received over 200 requests for bionic eyes.


Using NASA space technology, scientists have developed an artificial eye part that can restore lost vision:

Implant made of 100,000 detectors, each 1/20 the size of a human hair; replaces damaged retina.

Artificial retina Responds to light like rod and cone cells in a real retina.

Healthy eye Rod and cone cells convert light into electric signals; pass signals to brain via optic nerve.

Blindness is caused by damaged rod and cone cells.

Retina Thin screen of about 100,000 light-detecting cells; covers 65% of interior eye surface.

Optic nerve Sends electric signals to brain to be interpreted.


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