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Light-Activated Retinal Implants

For all the progress with bionic implants, we're still using electric wires to pass information to the optic nerve. It works, but it lacks finesse; you can only stimulate a nerve ending, and you're not getting much resolution-wise. This is all about to change, as Dr. Patrick Degenaar from Newcastle has created a method of stimulating nerve cells with light instead of electric shocks.

Degenaar's team extracted retinal ganglion cells from rats and injected a light-sensitive protein called ChRh2 into the culture. The now-photoreactive neurons were then placed on a LED array to record any electrical activity. Just as the scientists predicted, the 'roided up nerve cells reacted to 500-millisecond light pulses.

The experiment proves that this technique may lead to future implants with higher resolution rates and response times. The idea of the super-powered bionic eye may yet become a reality in our lifetimes.

[source: IEEE Spectrum]