Photoactive nanoparticles (in red) cover a retinal neuron membrane (nucleus in...
Photoactive nanoparticles (in red) cover a retinal neuron membrane (nucleus in blue).
Source: IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia/M. Bramini

Nanotechnology: injectable liquid retina prosthesis

Research at IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology) has led to the revolutionary development of an artificial liquid retinal prosthesis to counteract the effects of diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration that cause the progressive degeneration of photoreceptors of the retina, resulting in blindness.

The study represents the state of the art in retinal prosthetics and is an evolution of the planar artificial retinal model developed by the same team in 2017 and based on organic semiconductor materials (Nature Materials 2017, 16: 681-689).

The 'second generation' artificial retina is biomimetic, offers high spatial resolution and consists of an aqueous component in which photoactive polymeric nanoparticles (whose size is 350 nanometres, thus about 1/100 of the diameter of a hair) are suspended, and will replace damaged photoreceptors.

The experimental results show that the natural light stimulation of nanoparticles, in fact, causes the activation of retinal neurons spared from degeneration, thus mimicking the functioning of photoreceptors in healthy subjects.

Compared to other existing approaches, the new liquid nature of the prosthesis ensures fast and less traumatic surgery that consists of microinjections of nanoparticles directly under the retina, where they remain trapped and replace the degenerated photoreceptors; this method also ensures increased effectiveness.

The data collected show also that the innovative experimental technique represents a valid alternative to the methods used to date to restore the photoreceptive capacity of retinal neurons while preserving their spatial resolution, laying a solid foundation for future clinical trials in humans. Moreover, the development of these photosensitive nanomaterials opens the way to new future applications in neuroscience and medicine.

"Our experimental results highlight the potential relevance of nanomaterials in the development of second-generation retinal prostheses to treat degenerative retinal blindness, and represents a major step forward," Fabio Benfenati commented. "The creation of a liquid artificial retinal implant has great potential to ensure wide-field vision and high-resolution vision. Enclosing the photoactive polymers in particles that are smaller than the photoreceptors increases the active surface of interaction with the retinal neurons, and allows to easily cover the entire retinal surface and to scale the photoactivation at the level of a single photoreceptor."

Photo

"In this research we have applied nanotechnology to medicine," concludes Guglielmo Lanzani. "In particular in our labs we have realized polymer nanoparticles that behave like tiny photovoltaic cells, based on carbon and hydrogen, fundamental components of the biochemistry of life. Once injected into the retina, these nanoparticles form small aggregates the size of which is comparable to that of neurons, that effectively behave like photoreceptors."

"The surgical procedure for the subretinal injection of photoactive nanoparticles is minimally invasive and potentially replicable over time, unlike planar retinal prostheses," adds Grazia Pertile, Director at Operating Unit of Ophthalmology at IRCCS Ospedale Sacro Cuore Don Calabria. "At the same time, it maintains the advantages of polymeric prostheses, which are naturally sensitive to the light entering the eye and do not require glasses, cameras or external energy sources."

The research study is based on preclinical models and further experimentations will be fundamental to make the technique a clinical treatment for diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration.

The study has been published in Nature Nanotechnology (2020).

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related articles

Magnetic nanopropellers deliver genetic material to cells

Magnetic nanopropellers deliver genetic material to cells

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Germany have developed powerful nanopropellers that can be steered into the interior of cells to deliver gene therapy.

Bringing the bling to improve implants

Bringing the bling to improve implants

Researchers have for the first time successfully coated 3D printed titanium implants with diamond.

Nanomaterial 'aerographene' creates powerful pumps

Nanomaterial 'aerographene' creates powerful pumps

Researchers have developed a method for the generation of controllable electrical explosions.

Electronic skin – the next generation of wearables

Electronic skin – the next generation of wearables

Electronic skins will play a significant role in monitoring, personalized medicine, prosthetics, and robotics.

A controllable nanoscale gas-liquid interface

A controllable nanoscale gas-liquid interface

Researchers have fabricated the first controllable gas-liquid interface at the nanoscale.

High-tech clothing supports breathing

High-tech clothing supports breathing

“Robotic” textiles could help patients recovering from postsurgery breathing changes.

Nanoscale lattices flow from 3D printer

Nanoscale lattices flow from 3D printer

Rice University engineers create nanostructures of glass and crystal for electronics, photonics.

Material protects against biological and chemical threats

Material protects against biological and chemical threats

A versatile composite fabric can deactivate both biological threats and chemical threats.

3D printing congress: AM Medical Days 2021

3D printing congress: AM Medical Days 2021

The first edition of the new conference series AM Medical Days 2021 starts with the focus on "Medical AM: How to apply it to patients?".

Popular articles

Subscribe to Newsletter