Work in biologic implants proceeds at a fast pace on many fronts. We’ve covered 3D printed cartilage implants to repair knees at Duke University, research in South Korea to create implants to deliver drugs, and work at the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering (IBMT) on implants controlled by sound.  Implants in human bodies aren’t a brand new technology.Plastic surgery and dentistry have used implants to surgically enhance, repair, and replace human body parts. Work on implants today often focuses on new biologic implant applications. Other research seeks new solutions to problems with current implant technologies.

Vanessa Restrepo-Schild, a doctoral student at Oxford University’s Department of Chemistry, has successfully developed biological synthetic soft tissue that could be used to create replacement retinas. According to Restrepo-Schild, metal retinal implants can be damaging to the human eye which is very fragile. A study reported by the American Academy of Ophthalmology recounted difficulties with electrode placement and hermetic issues with metal retinal implants. Restrepo-Schild’s synthetic retinas consist of hydrogels (soft water droplets) and biological cell membrane proteins. The soft synthetic material can generate electrical signals, which may be able to stimulate neurons at the back of the eye.

Next steps for Restrepo-Schild and her team are expanding functions to recognize colors, shapes, and symbols. It’s still early days in the development process. Down the road, the research will test soft synthetic retinas with animals and eventually in clinical trials with humans. The goal is to develop safe, effective implants with patients who have degenerative eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa.