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News

From vision implants to new biochips

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Zur Forderung Der Angewandten Forschung E.V. : 29 June, 2003  (Company News)
Over 35,000 blind people in Germany alone could be helped. If 'only' the retina is affected and the optic nerve still functions, implants can restore limited sight. For the past eight years, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems IMS in Duisburg have been developing various sight prostheses with increasingly better resolution and performance.
Depending on the type of eye disease, a possible treatment is systematically stimulating the retinal nerves with image data from an external video camera. 'So far, however, the camera and the retina can't communicate with one another,' says Andreas Schmid, explaining the motivation for his thesis, which has won the 2nd Hugo-Geiger Prize. 'Instead, the stimulation data has to be computed such that the desired visual perception emerges through the nerve cells of the retina.' The first step involves importing the camera data into the Retinomorphic System - a software which calculates the receptive field signals of the retina. It processes the signals in real time and then generates the stimulation data for the retinal implant. Schmid's software is remarkably flexible. It's compatible with all standard video sources, contains highly reconfigurable filters for the receptive fields and can communicate with various types of implants.

A quite different area of life science research is the search for new drugs, where vast numbers of protein samples must be processed and analyzed. Biochips have become the tool of choice for automating this process. Molecules affixed to the surface of the chip bond only with certain proteins, enabling targeted identification. Continuing progress in the field of proteomics has accentuated the need for more selective and miniaturized biosensors. 'My thesis looks into future methods of manufacturing biochips based on micro and nano technologies,' explains Sven Knecht, winner of the 3rd Hugo-Geiger Prize. 'Photolithography can be used not only to manufacture electronic circuits, but also to deposit structures onto polymer surfaces. Chemically functionalized nanoparticles subsequently self-assemble on these surfaces. A bioactive microchip is the result.' Knecht, now PhD student at the Technical University Zürich ETH, managed to deposit chemically functionalized particles also by means of microcontact stamping or by using robotdriven microarrayers. 'The results of his work are of great interest not only to the scientific community, but also to industry,' says Dr. Günter Tovar, head of the group Biomimetic Interfaces at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart. 'They garnered a lot of attention at several international conferences and are eminent to our current developments.'
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