Oxford University student develops world-first soft tissue retina

A 24-year-old scholar has created a synthetic retina that uses cell membrane proteins that act like pixels to create a monochrome image

Synthetic Retina

A postgraduate student has developed a soft tissue retina using hydrogels and biological cell membrane proteins.

Oxford University researcher, Vanessa Restrepo-Schild, 24, developed a double-layered retina that uses biological, synthetic tissues in contrast to the rigid materials that are usually used in artificial retinal research.

The retina is designed like a camera, using biological cell membrane proteins that work like pixels to detect and react to light, creating a monochrome image.

Ms Restrepo-Schild told OT that she hoped her research was the first step in a journey towards building technology that was soft and biodegradable.

“The synthetic material can generate electrical signals, which stimulate neurons at the back of our eye just like the original retina,” she explained.

A study detailing the technology, published in Scientific Reports details how an implant using natural materials is less likely to be invasive than a mechanical device.

“The human eye is incredibly sensitive, which is why foreign bodies like metal retinal implants can be so damaging, leading to inflammation or scarring,” Ms Restrepo-Schild highlighted. 

The Oxford University scholar has filed for a patent for the technology and will lead future research to expand the retina’s function to recognise different colours.

Image credit: Oxford University