Engineering professor receives National Institutes of Health Trailblazer Award
By David Stauacher
Laxman Saggere, associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, was named the recipient of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Trailblazer Award from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) to develop an innovative technology for treating vision loss due to retinal degenerative diseases.
The NIH Trailblazer Award is given to researchers to pursue innovative research programs of high interest to the NIBIB at the interface of the life sciences with engineering and the physical sciences.
Saggere was awarded a two-year, $638,604 grant effective June 2019 for his project titled “Enabling Technology for a Biomimetic Artificial Retinal Chemical Synapse Chip.”
“The long-term goal of this study is to develop a novel biomimetic retinal neural interface for treating vision loss from incurable blinding diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa that affect millions of Americans,” explained Saggere.
Instead of using electrical current to artificially stimulate the retina, as carried out in the retinal prostheses being developed by various research groups around the world, Saggere and his team are taking a radically different approach to bring eyesight to the blind. They are proposing a retinal prosthesis that transforms visual stimuli into chemical stimuli just like natural photoreceptors.
“We have established through studies conducted in our laboratory over the past several years that live retinal tissue stimulated with the brain chemical glutamate in a dish mimics its natural activation following visual stimulation,” Saggere said. “Therefore, artificially stimulating the retina with glutamate delivered through a prosthetic device implanted in the back of the eye could potentially circumvent the limitations of electrical-based retinal prostheses. Our goal in this project is to innovate and develop such a device called the artificial retinal chemical synapse (ARCS) chip that stimulates surviving retinal cells with glutamate directly in response to visual stimuli just like photoreceptors through an interdisciplinary approach, combining the varied fields of microsystems, optofluidics and visual neuroscience.”
Learn more about Saggere’s research at https://saggere.lab.uic.edu