Bionic Eye Image
To test the idea experimentally, the team used electrodes made from smooth silicon chips with branches made of carbon nanotubes patterned on the chip surface. (Credit: University of Oregon)

A new design for eye and brain implants draws its inspiration from nature. Researchers have grown rodent retinal neurons on a fractal-patterned electrode, one that mimics the repeating branching pattern in which neurons naturally grow. It’s a step closer to making a bio-inspired bionic eye, a long-standing goal for University of Oregon physicist Richard Taylor.

Taylor hopes the tiny electrodes could someday be implanted into the eye to restore sight in people with macular degeneration or other vision disorders. The new work provides experimental evidence supporting a hunch his team has been pursuing for years, that neurons, which themselves are fractals, will connect better to a fractal-patterned electrode than they do to more traditionally shaped electrodes, allowing better signal transmission between the implant and the brain.

In past studies, they performed computer simulations that suggested the fractal-patterned electrodes would be more effective than traditional electrode shapes. Then, to test the idea experimentally, the team used electrodes made from smooth silicon chips with branches made of carbon nanotubes patterned on the chip surface.

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