The bypassing of degenerated photoreceptors using retinal neurostimulators is helping the blind to recover functional vision. Researchers are investigating new ways to improve visual percepts elicited by these means as the vision produced by these early devices remain rudimentary. However, several factors are hampering the progression of bionic technologies: the charge injection limits of metallic electrodes, the mechanical mismatch between excitable tissue and the stimulating elements, neural and electric crosstalk, the physical size of the implanted devices, and the inability to selectively activate different types of retinal neurons. Electrochemical and mechanical limitations are being addressed by the application of electromaterials such as conducting polymers, carbon nanotubes and nanocrystalline diamonds, among other biomaterials, to electrical neuromodulation. In addition, the use of synthetic hydrogels and cell-laden biomaterials is promising better interfaces, as it opens a door to establishing synaptic connections between the electrode material and the excitable cells. Finally, new electrostimulation approaches relying on the use of high-frequency stimulation and field overlapping techniques are being developed to better replicate the neural code of the retina. All these elements combined will bring bionic vision beyond its present state and into the realm of a viable, mainstream therapy for vision loss.
Keywords: carbon nanotubes; conducting polymers; living electrodes; nanocrystalline diamonds; quantum dots; retinal neurostimulation; silicon nanowires; visual prosthesis.