Artificial eyesight isn't science fiction anymore. Research institutions are developing electronic retinas that replace rods and cones damaged by diseases like age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. But achieving resolution that rivals healthy eyesight isn't the only challenge. These nano-devices require power as well.
So, the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health has awarded a five-year, $6.5 million grant to a host of organizations to develop the National Center for Design of Biomimetic Nanoconductors. It will be based at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Specifically, the center will design, model, synthesize, and fabricate nanomedical devices based on natural and synthetic ion transporters—proteins that control ion motion across the membranes of every living cell. Its first task will be the development of "bio-batteries" for artificial retinas.
Sandia National Laboratories will take the lead in the project's theoretical and computational tasks. "We will use our expertise in multiscale modeling to understand and predict how transporter structure leads to function, with an initial focus on specialized transporters found in the electric eel," says Sandia researcher Susan Rempe.
Researchers believe that their work on the power source could lead to many other applications. "The things we learn from designing that will be applicable to other neural prostheses and other kinds of devices," says Eric Jakobsson, the center's director and a researcher with the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
In addition to the artificial retina, researchers are developing other neural prostheses that will enhance or replace neural function curtailed by illness or injury. Jakobsson also believes the technology could improve artificial kidneys, desalinization membranes, pumps, filters, electrical signaling devices, and implantable fuel cells.
National Center for Design of Biomimetic Nanoconductors