An eye on the microchip

This microchip allows the simultaneous recording of multiple retinal nerve signals. The aim is to understand how retinal nerve cells convert a visual scene into electrical signals for the brain.

The eye is a true masterpiece of the human body. It gives us sight, one of the most impressive feats of biology. The retina is comprised of over 60 different cell types, each specialized to recognize light stimuli and perceive colors or shapes. But even today, very little is known about what the nerve cells in our eyes do exactly.

The biotechnologist Michele Fiscella from ETH Zurich examines the fundamentals of vision by means of a new microchip, which was developed by electrical engineers for his research on vision. A mouse retina is placed on the chip and then stimulated by a moving object. The nerve cells are activated and start firing signals. The chip can register thousands of these nerve signals simultaneously. In this way, researchers can determine how each retinal cell reacts to the movements of the object.

With this knowledge, it will in future be possible to test treatments for age-related diseases, such as maculopathy, where vision slowly deteriorates, leading to complete blindness. It is estimated that by 2020, 196 million people worldwide will be affected by maculopathy. "We know that many retinal cells remain intact in this illness. This means we need to find ways of reactivating them in order to cure the disease," says Fiscella. "But to do so, we first need to know more about the function of the individual cell types in both healthy and diseased states."

Contact: Michele Fiscella, michele.fiscella(at)bsse.ethz.ch, +41 61 387 40 30

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