Biocompatibility of a Conjugated Polymer Retinal Prosthesis in the Domestic Pig

José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Stefano Di Marco, Maurizio Mete, Mattia Di Paolo, Domenico Ventrella, Francesca Barone, Alberto Elmi, Giovanni Manfredi, Andrea Desii, Walter G. Sannita, Silvia Bisti, Guglielmo Lanzani, Grazia Pertile, Maria Laura Bacci, Fabio Benfenati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The progressive degeneration of retinal photoreceptors is one of the most significant causes of blindness in humans. Conjugated polymers represent an attractive solution to the field of retinal prostheses, and a multi-layer fully organic prosthesis implanted subretinally in dystrophic Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) rats was able to rescue visual functions. As a step toward human translation, we report here the fabrication and in vivo testing of a similar device engineered to adapt to the human-like size of the eye of the domestic pig, an excellent animal paradigm to test therapeutic strategies for photoreceptors degeneration. The active conjugated polymers were layered onto two distinct passive substrates, namely electro-spun silk fibroin (ESF) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Naive pigs were implanted subretinally with the active device in one eye, while the contralateral eye was sham implanted with substrate only. Retinal morphology and functionality were assessed before and after surgery by means of in vivo optical coherence tomography and full-field electroretinogram (ff-ERG) analysis. After the sacrifice, the retina morphology and inflammatory markers were analyzed by immunohistochemistry of the excised retinas. Surprisingly, ESF-based prostheses caused a proliferative vitreoretinopathy with disappearance of the ff-ERG b-wave in the implanted eyes. In contrast, PET-based active devices did not evoke significant inflammatory responses. As expected, the subretinal implantation of both PET only and the PET-based prosthesis locally decreased the thickness of the outer nuclear layer due to local photoreceptor loss. However, while the implantation of the PET only substrate decreased the ff-ERG b-wave amplitude with respect to the pre-implant ERG, the eyes implanted with the active device fully preserved the ERG responses, indicating an active compensation of the surgery-induced photoreceptor loss. Our findings highlight the possibility of developing a new generation of conjugated polymer/PET-based prosthetic devices that are highly biocompatible and potentially suitable for subretinal implantation in patients suffering from degenerative blindness.

Original languageEnglish
Article number579141
JournalFrontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology
Publication statusPublished - Oct 15 2020


  • biomedical pig
  • conjugated polymers
  • retinal degeneration
  • retinal prosthesis
  • retinitis pigmentosa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Histology
  • Biomedical Engineering


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