太陽電池で動く人工網膜、ラットの実験に成功

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失明した方の視力を回復させる電子インプラント。これまでは「電力をどう供給するか?」が大きな課題でしたが、最近ある研究チームが開発したインプラントによって、その状況が変わろうとしています。それは自家発電できる人工網膜。
人工網膜は、加齢黄斑変性(黄斑の老化現象によって視力や視野が低下する病気)や網膜色素変性(視力や視野が徐々に失われていく遺伝性の病気)などによってダメージを受けた網膜の光受容体に替わるものとして、大きな期待が寄せられる電子インプラント。
デジタルカメラのような小型CCD配列をしていることが多く、視神経とつなげて実際の景色を見ているような知覚をもたらすことができます。しかし適切な外部バッテリーがなく、手術をより困難にしているのです。そこで、スタンフォード大学の研究チームが自家発電式のセンサーを開発し、ラット実験で完璧に機能することを証明したそうですよ。
そもそもこの人工網膜、いったいどんな仕組みなのでしょうか?
Nature Photonics誌によると、この人工網膜ではまず専用の眼鏡を使って視覚情報を捉えるんだそうです。そして、そのデータを低強度の赤外線で目に埋め込まれた人工網膜に伝達します(なぜ赤外線なのかというと、自然光では送電するために必要な電力の1000分の1にしか満たないからなんだとか)。赤外線を察知した人工網膜はそのデータを微粒子の電気的活動に変換。そうすると神経細胞が刺激されて、患者が「見える」状態になるんだそうですよ。
光受容体に障害のあるラットの網膜を使ってこの電子インプラントの実験を行ったところ、おおむね意図したとおりに神経細胞が活性化することに成功しているそうです。ただし、形は正確に伝達できるものの、色彩の精度があと一歩とのこと。
この研究が進み、求める人に光をもたらす日を心待ちにしたいですね。
参考記事: www.nature.com/nphoton/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nphoton.2012.104.html [Nature Photonics, BBC, New Scientist 画像:ThinkStock]
(Rumi)
[PR]
by pachifu | 2012-05-23 18:42