Collaborative research will help bring hope to Americans who are losing their sight to degenerative retinal diseases

Published on October 18, 2004 at 8:33 AM · No Comments

A collaborative research and development agreement signed between the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Second Sight LLC will help bring hope to hundreds of thousands of Americans who are losing their sight to degenerative retinal diseases.

DOE's Argonne National Laboratory, in collaboration with four other national laboratories and two universities, is joining with Second Sight to develop an artificial retina that may restore sight to people who have been blinded by these hereditary diseases.

The new agreement was signed by Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, Robert Greenberg of Second Sight, and the principal investigators on the research project from the research institutions involved. The signing ceremony took place at Chicago's Navy Pier. Secretary Abraham is the keynote speaker for the R&D 100 Awards ceremony to be held at Navy Pier this evening.

The research is led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and includes in addition to Argonne Sandia, Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories, the Doheny Eye Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

“Harnessing the intellectual power of five national laboratories and two other institutions presents a promising way to solve huge problems such as the need for a retinal implant for degenerative eye diseases. However, it brings with it an additional degree of complexity and a need for close communication between key researchers,” says Stephen Ban, director of Argonne's Office of Technology Transfer. “So far we have been very successful in the collaboration needed.”

The research team is developing an artificial retina that would effectively replace the destroyed rods and cones in the eye as the light receptor and optical signal converter. A tiny camera and radio-frequency transmitter on the patient's glasses capture images and transmit the information to the microchip. The image is then transmitted as electrical pulses to the retina via an array of implanted electrodes. From there, the information is processed and passed along to the brain. To date, six volunteers have received implants of a micro-electronic device that rests on the surface of the retina to p erform the function of normal photoreceptive cells.

“The Department of Energy has led the way to many scientific breakthroughs, especially when several scientific disciplines combined to make a whole greater than the sum of the parts,” Secretary Abraham said.  “This project is one such example where biology, physics, and engineering have joined forces to deliver a capability that will enable blind people to see.  This agreement between the DOE laboratories and the private sector will facilitate transfer of many aspects of DOE technology to a clinical device that has the potential of restoring sight to millions of blind individuals.”

“The artificial retina is very appealing to scientists because it contributes to improving the way of life for people,” said materials scientist Orlando Auciello, Argonne's principal investigator. “Having the ability to see is something too many people take for granted.”

Argonne's role in the project plays a critical part in the success of the electrode implants. Auciello and his colleague John A. Carlisle created a novel application for the patented ultrananocrystalline diamond technology developed at Argonne for the packaging of implantable electronics and as electrode material. The scientific and technological bases of ultrananocrystalline diamond films were developed by a large group of researchers in the Surface Science group in Argonne's Materials Science Division.

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