Israeli researchers use holographic images to restore vision to blind people

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ERUSALEM, May 20 (Xinhua) — A group of Israeli biomedical engineering researchers have developed a device to stimulate cells in the visual system after they have been injected with a special light-sensitive protein, the leader of the researchers told Xinhua on Monday.

Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa are working on a tool that would resemble a pair of glasses using holographic images that would stimulate retinal cells, thus providing a high quality image.

This technology, which was presented in the journal Nature Communications, could help some of the 25 million of people around the world who suffer from age-related macular degeneration and one and a half million with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disease of the retina that eventually leads to blindness. Over the past year, new electronic chip implants offer a basic solution to these patients.

These « star trek-like » glasses do not work without the help of a protein injection directly into the eye, since the retinal cells need to be made responsive first.

« Our work is part of the field of optogenetics, » Prof. Shy Shoham, who is directing the research at the Technion, told Xinhua. « And these injections are part of this field. We are developing a tool … that makes those cells responsive to the light, so together with the protein, can project images that will allow blind people to see again. »

The tool, like glasses, uses a digital laser hologram to stimulate the cells that are turned photosensitive after the shot.

« We use digital holography, in which you have a little light modulator screen, which you illuminate with a laser beam, creating a hologram. In this context, it has the advantage that you don’t block light and it causes the light waves to interfere, » Shoham said.

The research is still at a very early stage and so far has only been tried on mice. Shoham said that trials on humans are still far away in time. « I don’t want to compromise saying a specific amount of years, because I really don’t know, we’re still at the early stages, » he said.

Shoham’s team received a grant from the European Research Council to fund the research.

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