Fractal Retinal Implants

Diseased regions of the retina (a) can be replaced by electronic implants which convert light into electrical signals (b). The surface of our implants feature fractal electronics (c) which match the shape of the fractal neurons (d) that they pass their signals to. Designed to enhance communication with neurons, our fractal electronics are radically different to traditional electronics (e).

Imagine a world in which damaged parts of the body – an arm, an eye, or even a region of the brain – can be replaced by artificial implants capable of restoring or even enhancing human performance. The associated improvements in the quality of life would revolutionize the medical world and produce sweeping changes across society. This imagined world can be brought into reality by optimizing the fundamental science at the interface between the artificial and biological systems. In this project, we simulate, fabricate and test a novel electronic-nerve interface. Our bio-inspired ‘interconnects’ have the same geometry as the nerves they interface with. This will radically improve electrical stimulation of nerves in the human retina, allowing victims of retinal diseases to see in greater detail and under more realistic lighting conditions compared to retinal implants using conventional interconnects. Implants using our interconnects will also be capable of color vision. The ultimate aim is to restore vision to the point that recipients can read text and facial expressions – crucial capabilities for functioning in society.

Simulated images of a dog when viewed using a healthy eye (left), using a fractal implant (middle) and using one of today’s conventional implants (right)

The retinal implant project started in 2014 when Taylor’s research group won an InnoCentive Prize, beating over 950 competing ideas. This was followed by two invitations to the White House and a $1.8M award from the W.M. Keck Foundation and the University of Oregon. The technology was patented in 2015. The project features 5 faculty members (Richard Taylor, Miriam Deutsch, Benjamin Aleman, Darren Johnson, Cris Niell) and 8 graduate students from the Physics, Chemistry and Biology Departments.

Computer simulations (left image) quantify the successful transfer of signals from our implant to the neurons. Three-dimensional images of neurons (middle image) allow us to build implants that match their fractal shapes. A scanning electron microscope image shows a retinal neuron (purple) adhering to the textured surface of our implant (right image).

 

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