Retinal implant have been targeted by many research teams in the last 15 years and some remarkable results have been achieved (a blind person driving a car in a controlled space) but the step from the lab experiment to the market has not been taken so far. The reason lays in the problem of biocompatibility of the implant in the eye. The retinal implant requires power to operate and this create heat that can damage surrounding tissue, particularly the nerve cells that have to take the signals to the brain.
At a recent congress, held in Bonn Germany, on Artificial Vision the mood was very positive among the many researchers who gathered there. For the first time there is a feeling that biocompatibility issues have been solved, implants have been inserted in several patients’ eyes and have been left there form months without inducing any negative side effect.
In particular the Argus II implant has been able to restore a minimal vision to some patients by providing them with lights dot (phosphenes) that their brain was able to use to create images of edges and environment enabling them to walk, find the door in a room and so on. The vision provided is very crude, it is based on just 60 points (compare this with the 8 million points that a human eye is able to detect) but still, it is an important step. All the more important, as a matter of fact, is the resolution of bio compatibility since we know very well that the evolution of technology can be taken for granted and we will have more resolution in subsequent releases.
The bio- compatibility of an electronic circuitry opens up opportunities for several other kinds of implant and usher in a new age of drugs delivery, something I think will bring telecommunications at the core of health care by the middle of this decade.