Solar Panels in Your Eyeballs to Restore Vision

Scientists are working on implanting small solar panels inside people's eyes to restore vision.

Image credits: Freerange

While it may sound like science fiction, a group of Australian scientists are actually working on implanting small solar panels inside people's eyes. Patients with irreversible eye illnesses may have a significantly better quality of life because to novel technologies.

UNSW researcher Dr Udo Roemer is an engineer who specializes in photovoltaics, known more commonly as solar panel technology. He is in the early stages of researching how solar technology can be used to convert light entering the eye into electricity, bypassing the damaged photoreceptors to transmit visual information to the brain.

“People with certain diseases like retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration slowly lose their eyesight as photoreceptors at the center of the eye degenerate,” Dr Roemer says.

“It has long been thought that biomedical implants in the retina could stand in for the damaged photoreceptors. One way to do it is to use electrodes to create voltage pulse that may enable people to see a tiny spot.

“There have already been trials with this technology. But the problem with this is they require wires going into the eye, which is a complicated procedure.”

But an alternative idea is to have a tiny solar panel attached to the eyeball that converts light into the electric impulse that the brain uses to create our visual fields. The panel would be naturally self-powered and portable, doing away for the need to have cables and wires into the eye, report Lachlan Gilbert in UNSW News.

Dr Roemer isn’t the first to investigate the use of solar cells assisting in restoring sight. But rather than focus on silicon-based devices, he has turned his attention to other semiconductor materials such gallium arsenide and gallium indium phosphide, mainly because it’s easier to tune the materials’ properties. It’s also used in the solar industry at large to make much more efficient solar panels, although it’s not as cheap as the all-purpose silicon.

“In order to stimulate neurons, you need a higher voltage than what you get from one solar cell,” Dr Roemer says.

“If you imagine photoreceptors being pixels, then we really need three solar cells to create enough voltage to send to the brain. So we’re looking at how we can stack them, one on top of the other, to achieve this.

“With silicon this would have been difficult, that’s why we swapped to gallium arsenide where it’s much easier.”

Related Spiral Lens Gives you Clearer Vision

So how far along is this research?

Dr Roemer says it’s in the proof-of-concept stage.

“So far we’ve successfully put two solar cells on top of each other in the lab on a large area – about 1cm2, which has got some good results.”

The next step will be to make them into the tiny pixels required for sight, and etching the grooves to separate them. It will then be a small step to increase the stack to three solar cells.

Dr Roemer envisages by the time this technology will be able to be tested in humans – after extensive testing in the lab, followed by testing in animal models – the device will be about 2mm2 in size with pixels measuring about 50 micrometers (five hundredths of a millimeter). He stresses that it’s still a way down the track before this technology will be implantable in the retinas of people with degenerative eye diseases.

“One thing to note is that even with the efficiencies of stacked solar cells, sunlight alone may not be strong enough to work with these solar cells implanted in the retina,” he says.

“People may have to wear some sort of goggles or smart glasses that work in tandem with the solar cells that are able to amplify the sun signal into the required intensity needed to reliably stimulate neurons in the eye.”

Sam Draper
March 15, 2024

Innovation of the Month

Do you want to discover more, visit the website
Visit Website

Other news

ULTEEM: Noninvasive Epilepsy Monitoring Wearable That Attaches To Any Ordinary Eyeglasses

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal, causing seizures ...

Digital Mask to Protect Patients’ Privacy

It will prevent patients’ sensitive personal biometric information from being extracted and shared.

Diameter Health Secures $18M in Series B Funding To Improve Health Data Interoperability

Healthcare data company Diameter Health has raised $18M in Series B funding. The funding round...

Nymi Receives FIDO2 Biometric Passwordless Certification For Nymi Band 3.0

Nymi’s newest band the Nymi Band 3.0 has been certified as a FIDO2 authenticator, confirming the...
Discover more