AMD Artificial Retinas Manufactured In Outer Space

AMD Artificial Retinas Manufactured In Outer Space

Technology is progressing at warp speed. From computer advancement to coronavirus vaccines it is as if we are living in a sci-fi experimental age. Now it looks as though AMD (age-related macular degeneration) artificial retinas manufactured in outer space could be the next incredible tech invention to bring us closer to eradicating this debilitating eye disease. 

There are many advantages to forging certain products in space which just may lead to an interstellar construction of floating factories able to surpass many earthly challenges. This could be the beginning of a new era that offers unique material applications, enhanced employment opportunities, and a path toward successfully accelerated medical treatments. 

Artificial space produced retinas will enable a more streamlined, non-rejected implementation that catapults research as well as increases quality of life for so many suffering with AMD around the globe. 

Microgravity and 3-D Printing

By using 3-D printing in a microgravity atmosphere, researchers believe they will be able to construct superior artificial retinas in space. 

3-D printing was developed by Charles W. Hull in the mid-1980s. It is a complex process that uses a special box-like device with a moving ‘extruder’ which is able to transform the materials used, into an actual object. Materials include thermoplastics (plastic able to be heated and molded), metal, glass, wood, food and even cellular structures. It uses a layering sequence that follows a 3-D computer program to produce a tangible 3-D product. Overall, the possibilities are endless, ranging from the in-home construction of fun toys to medical developments of artificial organs, limbs and now retinas. 

Using a 3-D printer in outer space surpasses the problems that may arise when confronted with the earth’s gravitational field. For production of a heart or retina for instance, gravity can cause delicate vessels and capillaries to collapse before the printing is completed. In space, microgravity does not result in this collapse. 

As reported by The Burn-In, chief science officer Jordan Greco for the company LambdaVision which produces artificial retinas on earth, commented,   

“While LambdaVision’s artificial retina can be effectively developed in labs on Earth, producing the artificial retina in low-Earth orbit, improves the homogeneity of the alternating protein and polymer layers, resulting in increased stability, performance, and optical quality of the multi-layer system. These improvements could reduce the amount of materials required to produce the artificial retina, lower costs, and accelerate production time for future preclinical and clinical efforts”

$5 Million Research on the ISS

LambdaVision was just awarded five million dollars by NASA for the development of what is being called ‘vision restoration treatment’. It will be a protein-based artificial retina capable of restoring vision in patients suffering with macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, and many other ocular diseases of the retina. 

FierceBiotech (FB) reported on the research,

“LambdaVision constructs the artificial retina using alternating layers of a light-sensitive protein called bacteriorhodopsin and a polymer on a scaffold material commonly used in medical devices. The implant is designed to replace the function of the patient’s degenerated photoreceptors, with the proteins absorbing and converting light into signals sent to the brain.”

When this process is constructed in low-earth orbit space the binding efficiency between layers is more robust creating less, if any, defects. The proteins and other materials would be used minimally offering a less expensive and more rapid processing capability. 

Orbiting Satellite Production

The artificial retina research will be carried out on the ISS for a three year period. Even though this may seem like a long time, when it comes to creating and implementing this delicate part of the ocular system it is a blip on the screen for what would be needed to be done on earth. 

LambdaVision is working with Space Tango Cube Labs which offers customized pods capable of producing experiments and other processes in an automated format. This is expected to enable research to exit the ISS labs and lead into orbiting satellites that can be controlled from the ground for a mass production roll out. It is labeled, “pivot to steady-state production” that will offer research and implementation for artificial retinas to be manufactured and ‘installed’ into those suffering from macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

FB reputed on Space Tango,

“Space Tango is working on a solution called ST-42, or, according to Twyman Clements, co-founder and CEO of Space Tango,“a factory with a heat shield.” It’s an “audacious goal,” but the idea is to blast an crewless capsule into orbit, where it would spend time running a variety of experiments autonomously. Once it’s done, it would re-enter the atmosphere. Not only could regulators inspect the factory while it’s on the ground, but companies could blast experiments off—and retrieve them—on their own schedule, without relying on resupply missions.”

Into the Future

As LambdaVision continues a path of artificial retina research in space, it begins to open a whole new world of off-planet production. Many eyes will be on this company and, if successful, probably begin to follow suit. This means that once these orbiting satellite labs are working at an optimal rate, the process can be scaled to include a long list of artificial organ manufacturing that surpasses the slower capability on earth. Cost would decrease and availability will increase resulting in better ‘products’ with minimal glitches. In the near future we may see this mode of production turning the medical industry in its head and enhancing the patient experience beyond what anyone today can imagine.

The stakes are high when it comes to macular degeneration as it currently afflicts upwards of eleven million Americans and is expected to rise to double that by 2050. Worldwide, today approximately 196 million people suffer from some form of this disease and by 2040 may increase to about 288 million. AMD artificial retinas manufactured in space could reduce these numbers as the process becomes streamlined and retinal replacement becomes less invasive. Overall, this research brings yet another ray of hope to the many currently suffering and those that may be afflicted in the future.