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Scientists who have created a retinal implant that has restored lost vision in rats are planning a clinical trial on humans later this year.The implant converts light into an electrical signal that then stimulates retinal neurons. The hope is that it could assist millions of people suffering with retinal degeneration, including retinis pigmentosa, that could otherwise lead to blindness.

Mutations in any one of 240 genes could lead to the degeneration of the retina, causing light-sensitive photoreceptors cells that make up the retina to die off, writes ScienceAlert. This approach, developed by a team in the Italian Institute of Technology, is novel and it consists of a prosthesis being implanted into the eye to serve as a functioning replacement for the damaged retina. This is made of a thin layer of conductive polymer that has been placed on a silk-based substrate and is covered by a semi-conducting polymer.

After testing this product on rats with retinal degeneration, the implant continued to prove effective 6-10 months post-surgery. Based on their results, the team has deduced that their implant can activate “residual neuronal circuitries in the degenerate retina.” However, further research will need to be done to explain how this stimulation occurs on a biological level.  The team is hopeful that these results will translate to humans and their findings can be found in the journal Nature.