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The notion of creating artificial vision using visual prostheses has been
well represented though science fiction literature and films. When we think
of retinal prostheses, we immediately think of fictional characters like The
Terminator scanning across a bar to assess patrons for appropriately fitting
clothing, or Star Trek’s Geordi La Forge with his VISOR, a visual
instrument and sensory organ replacement placed across his eyes and attached
into his temples to provide him with vision. Such devices are no longer
farfetched. In the past 20 years, significant research has been undertaken
across the globe in the race for a “Bionic Eye”. Advances in
Bionic Eye research have come from improvements in the design and
fabrication of multielectrode arrays (MEAs) for medical applications. MEAs
are already commonplace in medicine with use in applications such as the
cochlear device, cardiac pacemakers, and deep brain stimulators where
interfacing with neuronal cell populations is required.
The use of MEAs for vision prostheses is currently of significant interest.
For the most part, retinal prostheses have dominated the research landscape
owing to the ease of access and direct contact to the retinal ganglion nerve
cells. However, MEAs are also in use for direct stimulation into the optic
nerve . Retinal prostheses bypass the damaged photoreceptor cells within
the retina and instead replace the degenerate retina with electrical
stimulation to the nerve cells. Using electrical stimulation, stimulated
retinal ganglion cells have been shown to elicit a percept in the form of a
phosphene in blind patients [2–6]. Accordingly, the two diseases
commonly linked to the justification for Bionic Eye research are age-related
macular degeneration (AMD) and retinitis pigmentosa (RP), diseases which
lead to progressive loss of photoreceptor cells and diseases where the
patient has had previous vision and thus exhibits prior visual-brain
pathways. At present, there has been no reliable cure for any of the retinal
diseases that target the photoreceptor cells, and thus the development of
prosthetic devices is a viable clinical treatment option [7–9].
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