Vision Restoration in 2D
Can graphene and molybdenum disulphide really find another application in artificial retinas?
After years of speculation about the exact properties and possible uses of graphene, the material was finally properly isolated and characterized in 2004 – an achievement that was recognized in 2010 with a Nobel Prize in Physics for the two University of Manchester physicists, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov. Since then, its applications have included solar cells, dental discs, inks and bioadhesives.
Now, graphene – along with another two-dimensional material, molybdenum disulphide – is being used to fabricate artificial retinas. Nanshu Lu from University of Texas in Austin, who led the first demonstration of the flexible device, acknowledges that research is still at an early stage, but scientists believe the device could one day help restore sight in people affected with retinal diseases, such as macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy, which affect millions of people around the world, causing vision impairment followed by complete vision loss. Outside of ophthalmologic applications, it is also believed that the device – based on a few thin layers of graphene and molybdenum disulphide, as well as layers of gold, alumina and silicon nitrate – could be used to track brain and heart activity through electronic tattoos on the skin’s surface, possibly with the addition of transistors to amplify the brain or heart signal.
Current implants used to help with restoring vision in affected individuals are silicon based. Unfortunately, the results are often unsatisfactory, with distorted or blurry vision, which in part down to the rigidity and a flat shape of the silicon-based implants; they simply cannot replicate the natural curved shape of the retina. The novel device appears to adapt to the shape of the eye and mimic its structural features. It includes an external circuit board, which is used to store the electronics used to digitally process light, stimulate the retina and receive signals from the visual cortex.
- American Chemical Industry, “A new generation of artificial retinas based on 2D materials” (2018). Available at: tinyurl.com/ychfajuk. Accessed November 20, 2018.