Science Corp., located in Alameda, California, is developing the Science Eye, a prosthesis to restore vision in patients with diseased light-sensing cells. The CEO, Max Hodak, showcases a small device connected to a microLED display. Once proven safe and effective, the Science Eye will be implanted in human patients. The company’s first scientific paper highlights their progress, including successful trials in rabbits. The device features a wafer-thin microLED with 16,000 pixels, offering high-resolution vision. To restore vision, the Science Corp. team must deliver a gene and demonstrate the generation of electrical signals in the brain. Leela, the rabbit, plays a crucial role in their research. Genetic diseases like retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration cause the death of photoreceptors, resulting in blindness.
In retinitis pigmentosa, the loss of photoreceptors impairs vision. However, other cells in the retina, like RGCs, remain intact, allowing the brain to decode light signals. The Science Eye aims to modify RGCs to be responsive to light and transmit signals. This involves injecting a specially designed opsin, enclosed in a deactivated virus, to target RGCs. The opsin successfully reaches RGCs in experiments with stem cell-derived neurons and retinal organoids. The company needs Leela’s eyes to test the method in a living organism.
At Science Corp., researcher Amy Rochford delicately manipulates Leela’s eyeball, removing parts and accessing the retina for further study. Although rabbit eyes differ from human eyes, they serve as a valuable starting point for research due to their similarities in certain aspects of eye biology, such as the presence of light-sensitive cells in the fovea.
Science Corp. aims to validate two key concepts: getting the viral construct into RGCs and stimulating opsins with the FlexLED device to send signals to the brain. Early results from rabbit experiments show success in making RGCs light-sensitive and detecting brain activity with the FlexLED. However, the opsin requires a specific wavelength of light, necessitating the use of glasses with cameras to transmit information wirelessly to the implanted FlexLED.
While vision restoration for early patients won’t be perfect, it will provide a sense of sight with reduced fidelity. Overcoming physiological barriers to achieve high-resolution vision remains a challenge, given the large number of photoreceptors compared to RGCs. Nonetheless, stimulating RGCs alone presents a viable pathway.
RGCs convey different types of information to the brain, similar to Photoshop filters, creating a complete visual scene when combined. Future iterations of the FlexLED device could potentially drive different types of RGCs, enabling high-resolution vision restoration.
While Science Corp. is not the only team working on vision restoration, its optogenetics approach is unique. Other companies are experimenting with gene-editing RGCs and light-altering goggles. For example, GenSight’s optogenetics system, using gene therapy and glasses, has shown partial vision restoration in clinical trials. Neuralink, Hodak’s previous venture, focuses on brain implantation but faces regulatory challenges.
Safety is a critical concern, and Science Corp. must ensure the implant’s safety and minimize potential risks. Looking ahead, Science Corp. envisions a future beyond the Science Eye, with ambitions to explore new senses and make the sensorium programmable.
The brain’s ability to adapt to new external inputs allows for the potential creation of a virtual world experienced through the Science Eye. By fine-tuning RGC stimulation, one could perceive specific images or places, altering reality itself. The concept of “altering the brain, altering reality” resonates with Science Corp.’s vision and is reflected in their artwork.
Hodak’s reference to “See you in the Matrix” hints at Science Corp.’s grand ambitions. However, the current reality is far from achieving such feats. During the tour of Science Corp.’s facility, no hidden agendas were revealed, and the focus remained on the rabbit experiments.
Announcing the Science Eye – Science
A Science corporation – Max Hodak blog
Neuralink’s FDA Troubles Are Just the Beginning – IEEE Spectrum
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