An organic pigment used in tattoo ink and cosmetics is being used to create a prosthetic that could enable blind people to see again.

The retinal prosthesis being pioneered by Tel Aviv University in Israel and Linköping University in Sweden has been labelled a microscopic doughnut due to its structure; with the crystal-containing pigment, which is widely available, in the centre activating nerve cells.

Credit: Thor Balkhed.

“The response time must be short if we are to gain control of the stimulation of nerve cells,” explained David Rand, postdoctoral researcher at Tel Aviv University. “Here, the nerve cells are activated directly. We have shown that our device can be used to stimulate not only neurons in the brain but also neurons in non-functioning retinas.”

The research is published in the journal Advanced Materials.

There is also a gene therapy being developed by researchers in America to treat blindness in people with ‘inherited retinal diseases’.