Injecting nanoparticle-based retina has restored vision to blind rats

Recently, on 29th June, 2020, an article was published in Nature Nanotechnology titled;

“Subretinally injected semiconducting polymer nanoparticles rescue vision in a rat model of retinal dystrophy, “

The article discussed how a team of international scientists used nano technology to restore vision loss caused by the retinal degeneration, or Retinitis pigmentosa.

For those wondering what retinal degeneration or Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is;

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a group of rare, genetic disorders that involve a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina — which is the light sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye.

Patients of RP either are unable or find it extremely difficult to see at night or have lost their peripheral (side) vision. With age, the chances of developing this condition have increased. In fact, it has become so common in older people that people have started calling it “an unavoidable consequence of getting old”.

What’s even worse is that there are not much medication or prosthesis available for this. The previous artificial retinal prosthesis that existed were made using electrodes and all kinds of different sensors and required a lot wiring, surgery, and cameras. They were also successful in restoring only low-resolution vision; vision that helps in differentiating between light and dark and is only able to recognize small objects with simple shape and sizes. However, with the help of nanotech, scientists have been able to take this one step further. It is known to bring back high resolution as well. Moreover, it does not require any surgeries or wiring and can be directly injected into the patient’s eye.

The experiments and the testing are being carried out for the last 8 months and so far, has been successful. With just one injection, a blind rat’s visual cortex activity as well as its visual acuity became similar to that found in healthy rats. The nano particles that were are the P3HT nano particles, which are the nanoparticles of a conjugated polymer. About the model, Mattia Bramini, who is one of the researchers working on the project said;

“In the model we studied, the nanoparticles stimulated the light-dependent activation of the intact internal retinal neurons, recovering visual responses with no inflammation of the retina,”

She further said, “Given that they achieved light sensitivity following a single injection, and with the potential for high spatial resolution, nanoparticles provide a new way forward in retinal prostheses, with potential applications not only in the case of retinitis pigmentosa but also in age-related macular degeneration.”

While this is great news, but we still need the consider the fact that so far, this approach has only been tested on rats. And a lot more research needs to be done before testing it out on humans or larger animals. As Fabio Benfenati who works as a research director at the Italian Institute of Technology, suggested

“The most obvious development is to approach the first-in-human application with the current technology that will provide the most complete answers. This will include a step-in larger animal and a long-term study of the nanoparticle fate. I foresee that it will require a few years to be accomplished.”

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