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Engineering Sight: Advances in Artificial Retina Development

March/April 1998

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 cells.

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."
[July/August 1997]

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