Oct 3, 2017 | By Tess

The National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has awarded $90,000 to a team from the University of Maryland for its proposal to develop a living model of a human retina with the help of 3D printing.

The $90K award was given as part of the NEI’s 3D Retina Organoid Challenge (3-D ROC), which is part of a larger initiative aimed at innovating and advancing the field of retinal organoid research, especially for the treatment of retinal diseases.

According to the NEI, retinal diseases and other vision-related ailments affect millions of Americans (1.3 million Americans are blind, and 2.9 million are deemed to have low vision). That is why the NEI is working to advance treatments for disease and age-related visual impairments.

The winning proposal of the NEI’s 3-D ROC was submitted by a University of Maryland team led by Erin Lavik, ScD, and is being lauded for its “scalability, efficacy, and reproducibility.” In short, the team proposed a method for creating a living retina model which involved printing layers of adult neural progenitor-derived retinal neurons into a retina-like structure.

This 3D bioprinting process, deemed the most feasible and promising by a panel of NEI judges, could be used for drug testing and, importantly, could help improve treatments for macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and other retina-related diseases and conditions.

Researcher Erin Lavik, ScD, who led the winning team

In addition to offering $90,000 to the winning proposal’s team (to further develop its research), the NEI also recognized a number of other submissions through honorable mentions, including a team from Northeastern University led by Rebecca Carrier, PhD; a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison led by David Game, MD, PhD; a team from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine led by Wei Liu; and a couple more.

“The diversity of disciplines within each team is impressive and their concept proposals showcase the creativity that occurs when vision researchers collaborate with experts from other fields,” commented NEI Director Paul A. Sieving, MD, PhD.

“We intend for these concepts to push the development of retinal organoids. If developed, these next-generation human retina models would be invaluable resources for researchers in academia and industry,” he added.

The NEI says that it also plans to provide further funding ($1 million) through the second phase of its 3D Retina Organoid Challenge, which is set to launch later in 2017. This funding will help teams to accelerate and realize their research goals in the retinal organoid field.

"During [the second] part [of 3-D ROC] we're going to actually be asking people to develop their prototypes and that should last for about 2 to 3 years,” explained Jessica Mazerik, a health science administrator at NEI.

“We want something very functional that recapitulates the structure and morphology, and eventually, hopefully, it can be commercialized and broadly used by the research community and companies,” she continued.

“We want something that can be used a little bit more broadly and then that can also be picked up by pharmaceutical companies and used for drug screening, drug validation, and toxicology screening, and hopefully, modeling diseases.”

It will be interesting to see how the 3-D ROC projects develop and how the 3D printed eye technology could impact the medical field.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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