Project leadersJosé Antonio Garrido, Pablo Loza-Álvarez, Mokhtar Chmeissani, Jeroni Nadal
Participating organizationsICFO, ICN2, IFAE, Barraquer Ophthalmology Center and Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST)
To develop a graphene implant to help people with retinitis pigmentosa, which affects 1 in 3,700 people, see again. This implant is based on using a multi-electrode array (MEA) biochip as a retina prosthesis. Using graphene is an improvement on current chips, which are limited by the number of electrodes that can be implanted. Plus, graphene is more flexible, biocompatible and transparent.
THEIA is the result of an alliance between three of the seven Catalan research centers that make up BIST, with Barraquer Ophthalmology Center. ICN2 is responsible for implementing the graphene-based MEA; IFAE, for integrating the electronic MEA controller; and ICFO, for the microscopy experiments to test proper stimulation of the photoreceptors in the retina. Barraquer will implement a proof of concept for this new chip in three years. THEIA falls under the framework of the Ignite Program promoted by BIST to foster multidisciplinary research, which has already funded 8 projects.
Most significant challenges
The initial challenges facing THEIA are imminently technical. As a multidisciplinary project, it faces important challenges in biology (genetic encoding of calcium indicators in the retina, resection and retina imaging), materials technology and science (manufacturing graphene-based MEAs) and electronics (implementing customized stimulation electronics). In terms of funding, the project requires significant efforts beyond the funds earmarked from the BIST Ignite Program.
THEIA has successfully proven its ability to obtain in vitro images with high spatial resolution of the electric activity of retinas using genetically encoded calcium indicators and local stimulation with graphene micro-electrode matrices. The next steps include identifying the best micro-electrode designs for effective focal stimulation and designing more flexible MEA devices, assessing their efficacy for in vivo stimulation.
To tackle these phases, THEIA has been awarded a second round of funding under the BIST Ignite Program and is searching for new funding opportunities.