EU-funded researcher wins prestigious innovation award

The coordinator of an EU-funded project into blindness has won the 2007 Altran Foundation Award for his work on the development of an artificial retina. The theme of this year’s competition was
‘mending the human body through technological innovation’.

Professor José Sahel, coordinator of the EVI-GORENET (European Vision Institute – Functional Genomics of the Retina in Health and Disease) project, developed the device together with his
team at the Vision Institute of the Quinze-Vingts hospital in Paris.

The team will now benefit from the Altran prize, which comprises a financial grant of ?16,000, plus one year of technological and personalised support for use in the furtherance of the project.
Altran’s 17,000 international consultants and managers have expertise in a range of fields relating to research and innovation, such as technological development, design, marketing,
fundraising, communication and corporate strategy.

The goal of the artificial retina project is to enable visually impaired and blind people to read big characters. The device will be placed in the position of the photoreceptor (a
photosensitive cell found in the retina) so as to stimulate the remaining retinal cell layers and thus produce visual images.

Work is still ongoing to perfect the device, and physicians, ophthalmologists, chemists, micro-electricians, biologists and patients are now working together to develop the materials and
technologies needed to make the device work effectively.

Early prototypes are planned for 2009, and the first artificial retinas should be available in 2011.

Markos Kyprianou, the EU’s Commissioner for Health, is supporting the award. ‘I am a strong supporter of innovation,’ he said. ‘As for health promotion and disease prevention, innovation is one
of the cornerstones of public health and safety. […] I look forward to witnessing the creativity of a few brilliant minds [benefitting] the public, thanks to the technological support
afforded by this award.’

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