5. Science: $112.7 million (Opthamology)Science is the developer of the Science Eye, a visual prosthesis implant for patients blinded by retinitis pigmentosa or dry age-related macular degeneration, two diseases where the light-sensing photoreceptor cells at the back of the eye have died.
The device — a flexible thin-film, ultradense microLED display panel implanted above the retina — works in combination with gene therapy. To overcome the dead photoreceptors, a gene inserted into optic nerve cells can allow the nerve to sense the display implant.
Alameda, California-based Science said the device is similar in size to glaucoma shunts. It wirelessly receives images from a pair of glasses with binocular cameras.
“Making the optic nerve itself light sensitive doesn’t restore vision per se: there are over 100 million photoreceptors per eye but only around 1 million retinal ganglion cells,” Science CEO Max Hodak and other members of the team explain on the Science website. “In other words, the signal sent down the optic nerve is heavily compressed relative to the image that is formed onto the photoreceptors through the eye’s lens. It is this compressed data that the Science Eye implant stimulates into the optic nerve, and images the first patients will experience might look quite different from what you or I think of as vision.”
“This is something we think will improve as we learn more — much of this neuroscience is difficult to do in animals — but even so, we hope to restore significant independence to even our (future) early patients,” they continued.