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New wireless, solar-powered 'bionic eye' gives sight to blind rats

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Scientists have been utilizing a variety of different bionic eye and retinal implant technologies as a way to restore sight to blind people, and today a research group from Stanford University is releasing the details behind a successful test of a wireless, solar-powered implant. In the new study published in Nature, the researchers detailed a tiny new microchip that can be embedded in the retina and wirelessly communicate with a set of video eyeglasses. The implant then translates the images from the glasses into electrical signals that the neurons in the eye can understand as visual images. The chip was tested in the eyes of rats who suffered from macular degradation (a leading cause of blindness), and brain activity measured in the rats' visual centers showed that the new implant was successfully transmitting images.

According to Medical Daily, the new implant is actually an improvement of a similar piece of technology the team developed. For starters, the retinal implant previously had a physical connection to the video eyeglasses; the new wireless connection is a major improvement that should help reduce complications that cropped up with the old cable connection. The new chip can also be implanted in the sub-retinal layers of the eye, instead of on the surface of the retina — the creators of the implant say that this helps avoid unwanted signals and is actually a less complex surgery. Of course, the technology is only being tested on rats right now, but the team behind it found it to be a "promising approach to restoration of sight."