PITA Fiscal Year 2013 Projects

Engineering Development of a Retinal Prosthesis for the Blind

Lead University: Carnegie Mellon University
PI: Shawn Kelly
Co-PI: Steven Chase, Dept. of Biomedical Engineering
PA Industry: UPMC Eye Center, Dept of Veteran Affairs, Daedalus, Inc

We propose to develop and test electronic components of a retinal prosthesis that will restore functional sight to the blind. Degenerative retinal diseases like macular degeneration destroy the rods and cones of the eye but leave the retinal ganglion nerve cells intact. The prosthesis electrically stimulates surviving retinal nerves in patterns based on images from a camera worn by the patient on a pair of glasses, creating pixelated vision that is useful for navigation, object identification, and other activities of daily living. The retinal implant is surgically attached to the outside of the eye, and contains a telemetry coil, a microchip, and a thin-film array with hundreds of stimulating electrodes. The coil, which surrounds the cornea, receives power and image data from an external system; the microchip interprets the image data; and the electrode array carries carefully metered current from the chip to the retinal nerves. In the external system, glasses house a small camera and a transmitting telemetry coil. These components are connected via a wire to a handheld computer, which processes the camera images and also includes the battery to power the entire system. We propose to develop a microchip with novel stimulation safety features, and a telemetry system capable of supporting a chip with hundreds of stimulation channels, and which includes a feedback system for delivering exactly the needed power to the implanted chip. Our team includes a graduate student and two faculty members from CMU, two small companies, a major eye hospital, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. This team from academia, industry, and government will further the technological development of the retinal prosthesis to prepare it for clinical trials.