Fly eyes show how to improve retinal implants

(Credit: John Tann/Flickr)

Scientists thought cells in the retina only functioned as photoreceptors, converting light in electrical signals for the brain. But there’s new evidence that retinal cells also carry out key processing tasks.

The discovery suggests a way to improve retinal implants for people with disorders such as macular degeneration.

fruit fly macro
(Credit: Macroscopic Solutions/Flickr)

Scientists from the University of Sheffield found that in fruit flies the photoreceptors believed to be involved in motion detection play a key role in providing visual information about the world around us.

The similarities that exist between responses of human cone photoreceptors and fly photoreceptors suggest that the human eye processes visual signals in a similar way.

Retinal implants replace damaged or dead cells by converting light into electrical signals that are sent to the brain. The implants do not restore vision completely but can help patients detect patterns and shapes.

“We think that implementing the processing tasks performed by photoreceptors into retinal implants could help the brain accomplish key tasks such as object recognition and motion detection,” says Daniel Coca, lead researcher and coauthor of the paper in PLOS ONE. “This could significantly improve the performance of artificial retinas and therefore the sight of thousands of people suffering from macular degeneration.”

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council UK supported the work, project included researchers from the University of Cambridge.

Source: University of Sheffield