There’s a new advancement in the area of eye health and it is centering around – wait for it – tattoo ink. Indeed, as unbelievable as it may sound, studies involving the retina and tattoo pigment have received note at Sweden’s Linkoping University and Tel Aviv University in Israel. At these prestigious institutions, eye health scientists and researchers are working together to develop a rudimentary artificial retina that could possibly restore sight to the blind, with tattoo pigment as one of the key components.

The retina is a layer of nerve cells located in the back of the eye which converts incoming light to electrical signals, all of which are then sent to the brain and analyzed as images we see. These cells are known as photoreceptors, with two types of photoreceptor cells residing in the human eye: Rods and cones. Rod photoreceptors detect motion, provide black-and-white vision and function primarily in low-light conditions, while cones are responsible for central and color vision, performing best in medium and bright light.

There are a wide range of retina problems, conditions and diseases affecting millions of Americans, with the more common types that eye doctor professionals encounter encompassing:

Macular degeneration

Diabetic retinopathy

Macular edema

Central serous retinopathy

Hypersensitive retinopathy

Solar retinopathy

Detached retina

All of these can contribute to eventual loss of vision, which is specifically why researchers at Linkoping and Tel Aviv Universities are studying the effects of tattoo ink on the retina.

As a result of their research efforts, scientists developed a prototype artificial retina designed and realized as a metal ring containing a thin film of photoactive material. This material is comprised of a sheet of gold studded with microscopic pixels, and, interestingly enough, each of these is smaller in diameter than the width of a human hair shaft.

These microscopic pixels are themselves made up of low-cost, non-toxic organic pigment – the type commonly used in tattoo ink and cosmetics – and when they’re exposed to light, an electrical pulse is created. Lab tests have concluded that these pulses were found to instantaneously stimulate neurons in otherwise light-sensitive retinas.

The device can work independently, without needing to be connected to external sources. Researchers are hopeful that a version can someday be surgically implanted to restore vision in patients with defective retinas.