Organic Semiconductors Bring Hope of Restoring Vision Through Solar Cells in the Eye

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Tiny solar panels at the back of the eye could help patients recover from sight loss, according to research from the University of Surrey. For the first time, scientists at Surrey have used high-performance organic semiconductors, which could one day restore colour vision.

Age-related macular degeneration is the UK’s biggest cause of sight loss, and for most sufferers, there is no treatment. One idea to change that is to insert a tiny ‘solar panel’ at the back of the eye. Surrey researchers have demonstrated that new materials could do the job – while being cheaper and more flexible than alternatives.

Dr Leslie Askew, a member of the research team, said:

“Just like solar panels convert light to electricity, our flexible device sits at the back of the eye, converting light to electrical signals carrying colour information through to the optical nerve.

“Previously, this has only ever been achieved in black and white vision – so to be able to restore colour vision is really exciting.

“We are using thiophene-based materials paired with acceptor molecules to improve the output signal to a point where cells in the middle of the retinal layers can be stimulated successfully.”

Dr Maxim Shkunov, Senior Lecturer at Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute, said:

“One of the most compelling aspects of our research is that we can print these miniature solar panels like you might print paper.

“Not only is that much cheaper and possibly more accessible – but the array of panels can then be rolled up. They will fit comfortably in the back of the eye, eventually providing a larger field of vision. This also means they can be implanted with much less invasive surgery, helping patients recover faster, too.”

The findings are patent-pending, and it is now hoped they can be used to design an artificial retina to help patients suffering from retinal disease.

Dr Askew’s study is available on an open access basis.

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