Engineering Sight: Advances in Artificial Retina Development
In the surgery suites of Johns Hopkins University
Hospital and the laboratories of North Carolina State University, artificial
vision is moving out of the realm of science fiction and into reality.
Last spring, NSF-funded electrical engineering professor Wentai Liu,
of North Carolina State University, and doctoral student Eliot McGucken,
of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, created a microchip that
will be used by the surgeons. Limited laboratory experiments have shown
that this implant can expand artificial sight from a single dot in space
to an array of pixels, like that of a television set.
"There were many complex engineering problems in this project," says
Liu. "We had to consider biocompatibility of the device and how to provide
a reliable power supply. We also had to design an electrical circuit that
conforms to the biological specifications."
The artificial retinal component chip (ARCC) is designed to assist people
who suffer from diseases that partially destroy the retinal photo sensor
yet leave the optic nerve and ganglion intact. Placed at the front of
the damaged retina, the chip emits electrical impulses to stimulate ganglion
As for biocompatibility, researchers at Stanford University developed
a new synthetic cell membrane that will adhere to both living cells and
silicon chips. Liu told The Wall Street Journal, "It's an elegant solution
that could prove useful to our work."