Mallapragada has focused the next phase of her research on the optic nerve to try to better understand how CNS neurons work and grow.
"There are other factors at work, such as chemical and electrical cues," Mallapragada said. "Other researchers have had some success injecting adult (rat) stem cells into the site of the damaged optic nerve. Our hope is to eventually develop arrays of microelectrodes that will allow us to interface the optic nerve with a retinal chip a bioartificial optic nerve, if you will."
The retinal chip, first developed at Johns Hopkins University, uses chip technology to replace the eye's rods and cones. The technology transfers the digital images to the optic nerve via electrodes, but is limited by the inability to create electrodes that are small enough and numerous enough to create a resolution sufficient for the brain to decipher the input as it does with normal "sight."
"This research is a strong step forward in our basic understanding of nerve cell growth and how to engineer materials that help the body repair itself," said Ari Patrinos, Director of the Office of Biological and Environmental Research. "We hope the groundwork laid by Ames Laboratory will soon pave the way for human subjects to benefit from this technology."