UO research: Improved vision via 'nano-flowers'

UO research: Improved vision via 'nano-flowers'

EUGENE, Ore. --  Every year thousands of Americans are diagnosed with degeneration of the eyes, which robs them of their sight.

New research at the University of Oregon may help fix that using something called Nano-Flowers.

Researchers at the UO plan to grow nano-flowers on tiny metal implants. When a patient comes in with vision loss, they will undergo an operation in which those implants will then be inserted behind the eye.

"The surgeon will cut the eye open and place the implant behind the eye in place of the rods and cones," said Rich Montgomery, a researcher. If the experiments go well, a patient could see their eye sight improve better than ever before. 

"If our chip works, we will see 100 times better (results) than the current chips," said Richard Taylor the Director of the Material Sciences at the UO.

They say human eyes are a lot like a digital camera: we see in pixels. Normal eyes see about 127 million pixels. A human eye with a current eye implant can only see about 50, but with this new implant they could see about 5,000. 

The big difference in the chips is with the nano-flowers. The current eye implant was trying to join neurons with square shaped chip components and branch-like neurons. In these cases only about 50 out of 5,000 connections would be made.

But the nano-flowers, which are branch-like in shape, theoretically will create many more connections. "You can see the difference in shape with the square things and the branched things....it's like trying to hammer a circular thing into a square hole," Taylor said.

By using similar shapes the neurons will form more connections and improve vision. Clinical trials are underway right now, Taylor hopes to see this research start improving implants in the next five years.

For him it's all about helping people see again, "Certainly for me that is quite a thrill, compared to just building a computer that is ten times faster," Taylor said.

Researchers say if this project is a success, it could make the way for a new company based in Eugene.