Microelectronics is regarded as one of the key technologies for innovative products. Miniaturized electronic components even have their place in the human body and have done so for decades. The cardiac pacemaker is a classic example. The pulse generator in the case of cardiac dysrhythmia is now available in miniature format; it can be pushed into the heart via the groin through a vein by using a catheter. Implanted long-term sensors make it easier for diabetics to measure their blood sugar levels, and an insulin pump coupled via app makes it much easier to manage the disease. What they all have in common is that the smart helpers operate in a safety-critical area. The priority is clear: They must function reliably inside the human body. It is important that the highly sensitive microelectronics are perfectly protected against external influences. Glass is the material of choice for encapsulation, as it is biocompatible, chemically resistant, corrosion resistant, durable and does not emit any particles.
A special laser microbonding technology (see also article on p. 24) has recently made it possible to produce all-glass housings at room temperature. This opens up new prospects for highly sensitive medical mini-implants. A new development by Nano-Retina is just one example.
The Israeli company has taken a decisive step closer to its ambitious goal of restoring blind people’s vision through advanced nanotechnology by successfully testing its artificial retinal implant “NR600.” The first human trials that started in early 2020 have produced exceptional results. “The device was activated for the first time, and the result was amazing: this patient had been completely in the dark for 5 years and immediately reported seeing an image in the center of her visual field when the device was activated, and was able to show the size of the image she saw with her hands. I am very impressed by this experience. This is the first time I witnessed a completely blind patient being given back visual perception,” explained Professor Peter Stalmans, one of Europe’s leading retinal specialists.
SCHOTT Primoceler and NanoRetina have a longstanding partnership dating back seven years to the beginning of this project. The direct laser bonding method enables extreme miniaturization – for NanoRetina an absolute requirement for this implant that is placed inside the human eye. Hermetically sealed glass encapsulation is critical for the NR600 implant, as transparency is a must for precise optical performance. Furthermore, the implant is made of extremely small and complex electronic components. Exposing these to nearly any amount of heat could damage them. The glass wafer bonding process from SCHOTT Primoceler Oy creates only a minimal heat-affected zone during the laser joining process with NanoRetina’s device. “SCHOTT Primoceler’s unique technology enabled the realization of the NR600 miniature implant,” explains Ran Mendelewicz, NanoRetina’s Vice President of R&D. “The team in Finland has repeatedly proven that it is up to our challenges, and with their ‘can do’ approach, NanoRetina completed the development of a small, biocompatible, and hermetic implant.” Ville Hevonkorpi, Managing Director of SCHOTT Primoceler Oy, adds: “It has been a pleasure to see this transformative device move forward to become a reality for the treatment of vision.”