Three-dimensional electro-neural interfaces electroplated on subretinal prostheses

Butt, Emma and Wang, Bing-Yi and Shin, Andrew and Chen, Zhijie Charles and Bhuckory, Mohajeet and Shah, Sarthak and Galambos, Ludwig and Kamins, Theodore and Palanker, Daniel and Mathieson, Keith (2023) Three-dimensional electro-neural interfaces electroplated on subretinal prostheses. Other. bioRxiv, Cold Spring Harbor, NY. (

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Objective High-resolution retinal prosthetics offer partial restoration of sight to patients blinded by retinal degenerative diseases through electrical stimulation of the remaining neurons. Decreasing the pixel size enables an increase in prosthetic visual acuity, as demonstrated in animal models of retinal degeneration. However, scaling down the size of planar pixels is limited by the reduced penetration depth of the electric field in tissue. We investigate 3-dimensional structures on top of the photovoltaic arrays for enhanced penetration of electric field to permit higher-resolution implants. Approach We developed 3D COMSOL models of subretinal photovoltaic arrays that accurately quantify the device electrodynamics during stimulation and verified it experimentally through comparison with the standard (flat) photovoltaic arrays. The models were then applied to optimise the design of 3D electrode structures (pillars and honeycombs) to efficiently stimulate the inner retinal neurons. The return electrodes elevated on top of the honeycomb walls surrounding each pixel orient the electric field inside the cavities vertically, aligning it with bipolar cells for optimal stimulation. Alternatively, pillars elevate the active electrode into the inner nuclear layer, improving proximity to the target neurons. Modelling results informed a microfabrication process of electroplating the 3D electrode structures on top of the existing flat subretinal prosthesis. Main results Simulations demonstrate that despite the conductive sidewalls of the 3D electrodes being exposed to electrolyte, most of the charge flows via the high-capacitance sputtered Iridium Oxide film that caps the top of the 3D structures. The 24 µm height of the electroplated honeycomb structures was optimised for integration with the inner nuclear layer cells in rat retina, while 35 µm height of the pillars was optimized for penetrating the debris layer in human patients. Release from the wafer and implantation of the 3D arrays demonstrated that they are mechanically robust to withstand the associated forces. Histology demonstrated successful integration of the 3D structures with the rat retina in-vivo. Significance Electroplated 3D honeycomb structures produce a vertically oriented electric field that offers low stimulation threshold, high spatial resolution and high contrast for the retinal implants with pixel sizes down to 20µm in width. Pillar electrodes offer an alternative configuration for extending the stimulation past the debris layers. Electroplating of the 3D structures is compatible with the fabrication process of the flat photovoltaic arrays, thereby enabling much more efficient stimulation than in their original flat configuration.