There’s an increasingly large body of work on returning vision to people with damaged sight due to retinal failure: Recent advances in artificial retinas have been particularly amazing. But new research and an associated patent suggest a simple stop-gap solution may also help, by aiding light reception in the remaining cells of a failing retina.
That could be achieved by directly injecting quantum dots into the retina, says Jeffrey Olsen at the University of Colorado Hospital. The dots, nanoscopic chunks of semiconductor, fluoresce when a photon impacts them, and in this case that would simply amplify the light being directed at nearby retinal cells. It sounds incredibly simple, and avoids the dangers associated with surgically implanting a macroscopic-scale device into such a fragile structure as the eyeball. Furthermore, the quantum dots don’t require a power source, negating the need for any sort of coupling–wired or wireless–to an external power pack.
In a patent application that outlines this solution, it’s claimed that lab tests in rats have shown that the technique works: electrical activity detected in the retinas was increased after quantum dot injections.
If this technology proves useful, and the quantum dots can be successfully constrained to a particular part of the eye without roaming, then it sounds like a fantastic aid to partially-sighted people before fully artificial vision systems are perfected.