Israeli researchers use holographic images to restore vision to blind people

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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