CSEM partners with Nano Retina to restore sight to the blind

Neuchâtel, 8 February 2011 - CSEM announced today that its scientists and engineers are collaborating with Nano-Retina to develop an implantable bionic chip, especially designed to return sight to those blinded by retinal degenerative diseases.

There are currently about 10 million people worldwide aged 40 and older who are legally blind, most of them due to degenerative conditions like age-related macular degeneration (AMD). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), AMD is the third cause worldwide of visual impairment, accounting for 8.7% of such cases. To date, there is no preventive or curative treatment available for this condition.

Nano-Retina Inc, an Israeli company with laboratories in Herzliya, Israel and Dallas Texas USA, is developing an ultra small, high resolution and easy to implant, artificial retina designed to restore sight. This bionic retina incorporates various nano-size components in one tiny, flat implant, approximating the size of a child's fingernail bed. Nano-Retina has entrusted CSEM - given its state-of-the-art competencies in the area of low power IC design and photosensors - with the development of an artificial retinal chip. The aim of this project is to develop a new generation of tiny retinal implants that compensate for the damaged retina, without having to resort to an operation, which would be traumatic for the patient: simple local anaesthesia, a small incision (approx. 5 mm) in the sclera, followed by "gluing" of the implant over the damaged retina. The implant procedure will last barely half-an-hour. The implant is designed to work harmoniously with the natural functionalities of the eye, such as pupil dilation and eyeball movement. Restoring sight in a blind person is no longer something belonging to the realm of science fiction!

How does it work?

In a healthy eye, light travels through the eyeball into the retina. The retinal photoreceptors react to the light by converting it into an electrical signal which is transmitted to the brain via the optic nerve. The brain thereafter recreates the image that we see.

When the nerve connections and the optic nerve are still functioning, the artificial retina will enable the relaying of the visual information to the brain in place of the damaged retinal photoreceptors. The information can then be processed and the transmitted visual data recreated.

The bionic chip comprises a small imager, similar to that used in a digital camera, and an electronic interface including a network of electrodes designed to stimulate the optic nerve so that it sends the visual data - collected by the chip - to the brain. The implant will be powered by an external source integrated in a pair of special spectacles that the patient will have to wear.

The first clinical trials on humans are scheduled for 2013.

(Left) Positioning of the retinal implant after the operation - (Right) View of the bionic chip and its interface with the retina

(Left) Positioning of the retinal implant after the operation - (Right) View of the bionic chip and its interface with the retina