NEI Awards $90K for Proposal for 3D Printing Human Retina

The Erin Lavik-led team's proposal included screen-printing layers of adult neural progenitor-derived retinal neurons that parallel the human retina structure.

A proposal to build a living model of a human retina by screen-printing layers of adult neural progenitor-derived retinal neurons that parallel the human retina structure was awarded $90,000 by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Eye Institute (NEI).

Led by Erin Lavik (pictured), ScD, from the University of Maryland, the winning team’s system was designed for scalability, efficacy, and reproducibility. It also enables high-throughput screening for drug tests.

“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,” said NEI Director Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D. “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.”

The teams, tasked with aiding the effort to combat the development of age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and other eye-related conditions, were judged based on innovation and feasibility. Each proposal was reviewed by a panel of judges that assessed the approach to the necessary scientific challenges presented by the production of such a model, and the use of prototypes to understand the diseases and test therapies.

The award, for the NEI’s 3-D Retina Organoid Challenge (3-D ROC), is only part of the first phase of the NEI’s plan to help get a proposal developed. The second phase of 3-D ROC is planned to launch later in 2017, with an overall goal of giving $1 million to teams that develop feasible proposals. Jessica Mazerik, a health science administrator with the NEI, told MD Magazine that the goal of the program is to push the boundaries of 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,” Mazerik said. “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. 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.”

NEI also awarded honorable mentions to 5 teams, led by Rebecca Carrier, PhD, from Northeastern University; David Game, MD, PhD, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Wei Liu, PhD, from Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Daniel Pelaez, PhD, from the University of Miami; and Katja Schenke-Layland, PhD, from the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology.