The retina is a thin layer of neural tissue that lines the back wall inside the eye. Some of these cells act to receive light, while others interpret the information and send messages to the brain through the optic nerve. This is part of the process that enables us to see. In damaged or dysfunctional retina, the photoreceptors stop working, causing blindness. By some estimates, there are more than 10 million people worldwide affected by retinal diseases that lead to loss of vision.
The absence of effective therapeutic remedies for retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) has motivated the development of experimental strategies to restore some degree of visual function to affected patients. Because the remaining retinal layers are anatomically spared, several approaches have been designed to artificially activate this residual retina and thereby the visual system.
At present, two general strategies have been pursued. The "Epiretinal" approach involves a semiconductor-based device placed above the retina, close to or in contact with the nerve fiber layer retinal ganglion cells. The information in this approach must be captured by a camera system before transmitting data and energy to the implant.
The "Sub retinal" approach involves the electrical stimulation of the inner retina from the sub retinal space by implantation of a semiconductor-based micro photodiode array (MPA) into this location. The concept of the sub retinal approach is that electrical charge generated by the MPA in response to a light stimulus may be used to artificially alter the membrane potential of neurons in the remaining retinal layers in a manner to produce formed images.
Some researchers have developed an implant system where a video camera captures images, a chip processes the images, and an electrode array transmits the images to the brain. It's called Cortical Implants.