Nanofilm Serves as Artificial Retina

Image: American Chemical Society

Israel-based Nano Retina made some noise a few years back with its development of so-called “nanoelectrodes” that “interface with the eye’s bipolar neurons” and restart neural stimulation, allowing for messages to go to the brain. The nanoelectrodes served as a kind of artificial retina.

Since then it doesn’t appear that Nano Retina has had much more to report on the development of its implantable device, at least from what its website reveals. But it other Israeli researchers do, in a paper published in the journal Nano Letters. The team from Tel Aviv University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Centers for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology and Newcastle University combined semiconductor nanorods and carbon nanotubes to create a wireless, light-sensitive, flexible film that could potentially act in the place of a damaged retina.

The researchers used a plasma polymerized acrylic acid midlayer to make covalent bonds with the semiconductor nanorods directly onto neuro-adhesive, three-dimensional carbon nanotube surfaces.

The researchers have tested the device in a chick’s retina that in normal conditions would not have responded to light. These tests demonstrated that the flexible film absorbed light, which then triggered neuronal activity in the chick.

The researchers claim that this film is more durable, flexible and efficient, as well as better able to stimulate neurons, compared to other competitive devices. While there have been a number of approaches to creating artificial retinas to address diseases of the retina, such as macular degeneration, the stumbling block has largely been getting the device to fit inside the eye itself.

This is why solutions such as Nano Retina’s nanoelectrodes have been so attractive. It would seem, based Nano Retina’s reticence since its initial announcement, that the engineering issues are significant even with a nanoscale solution. Whether this latest research can find a way around them remains to be seen.



IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

Dexter Johnson
Madrid, Spain
Rachel Courtland
Associate Editor, IEEE Spectrum
New York, NY