The new implant, which works like a combination digital imaging chip and photovoltaic array, requires much less bulky hardware than previous designs. The devices have yet to be tested in live animals or human patients, but the implants are creating excitement among researchers because they have greater pixel densities and may restore more vision than other retinal prosthetics being worked on.
People suffering from macular degeneration (the most common cause of blindness among older people) and some other forms of blindness have lost the light-sensing cells in the retina but still have the underlying nerve cells that convey visual information to the brain. Retinal implants use electrodes to stimulate those nerves. Typically, the prosthetics require bulky electronics that sit on the eye to supply power, image data, or both to a chip inside the retina. The more hardware that's installed in the body, the greater the risk to the patient. And the complexities of the electronics have typically limited the pixel counts of these systems.