For years, innovators and ocular researchers have attempted to solve the issue of blindness caused by macular degeneration. Until recently, the outcome of this research has seen little meaningful treatment. However, a local startup is advancing the use of nanotechnology in developing retinal prostheses. Out of a worldwide pool of innovative startups and businesses, UC San Diego’s Nanovision was one of the seven entrepreneurial companies chosen to be featured at the Future in Review (FiRe) Conference in mid-October in Aspen, Colorado. FiReStarter is the annual conference that showcases technologically advanced companies for worldwide promotion.
Nanovision was chosen for its inventive use of nanotechnology in potentially treating patients with degenerative retinal disorders. These disorders are caused by the damaging of photoreceptor neurons that transmit light into neural signals. Retinal degeneration can be caused by a number of factors, ranging from age-related diseases to hereditary illnesses, and cancer. According to a review found in Eye and Vision, “Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive blinding disease with no cure at present” that potentially prevents patients from performing basic visually-dependent tasks such as reading (1). While affecting 11 million individuals nationally and 170 million people globally, “AMD is thereby the leading cause of visual disability in the industrialized world and the third leading cause globally” (1).
“We have made rapid progress with the development of the world’s first nanoengineered retinal prosthesis as a result of the unique partnership we have developed with the team at UC San Diego,” said Nanovision CEO Scott Thorogood.
The startups at FiReStarters were chosen by Strategic News Services (SNS), an organization of technology investors trained to predict trends in upcoming achievements based on current global needs. According to the FiReStarter website, “these FiReStarter companies, which are integrated into the FiRe program, are on the cusp of making great strides in improving our world. They are businesses we hope to follow for a very long time.” Companies chosen to be promoted at FiReStarters will maintain relationships with the organization for follow-up reviews.
The biologically compatible device is surgically implanted in the space created by degenerated photoreceptors, between the retinal pigment epithelium and neural retina.
The device functions under two main systems. Infrared light stimulates the electrodes of silicone light-sensitive optoelectric nanowires, which then stimulate the neurons in the retina’s inner layers. This allows Nanovision to restore vision to the retina parts that can no longer detect light, while not damaging the healthy retina.
The wireless telemetry system can transport data and power from outside of the body to the device using one pair of inductive coils. One part of the pair is in the eye receiving, and the other is emitting from outside the body. Through electrical stimulus via these coils, these two parts communicate with each other so that the eyes can adapt to environments with changing light levels.
Nanovision’s device is energy efficient, as it recycles electrostatic energy, and 90% of the energy transmitted is used for stimulation. The energy efficiency reduces both radiation emission and heating of the eye.
After testing electrophysiological stimulation in vitro and implanting mock devices in test rats, Nanovision plans human studies in the near future.
(1) Pennington, K. L., & DeAngelis, M. M. (2016). Epidemiology of age-related macular degeneration (AMD): associations with cardiovascular disease phenotypes and lipid factors. Eye and vision, 3(1), 34.
Nanovision website: https://nanovisionbio.com/
FiRe Future in Review website: https://www.futureinreview.com/firestarters/