National Eye Institute Launches $1 Million 3-D Retina Organoid Challenge

National Eye Institute Launches $1 Million 3-D Retina Organoid Challenge

The National Institutes of Health’s National Eye Institute (NEI) has launched a new competition that challenges biomedical scientists to generate miniature, 3D human retinas in the lab for use in research. The aim of the competition is to develop human models of retinas that will allow researchers to study the causes of blindness and develop effective treatments.

The NEI will be offering prize money of more than $1,000,000 to speed up the development of lab-grown human retina organoids. The prize money will come from federal funds over the next three years.

While model retinas are currently used by biomedical scientists, they lack the complexity, architecture, and functionality of human retinas. The closer retina models are to human retinas, the more likely they are to mimic the functioning of normal and diseased human retinas and the more valuable they will be for testing potential therapies.

There are more than 40 million visually impaired or blind individuals in the United States, with that number expected to more than double by 2050. Providing treatment and care for those individuals costs more than $35.4 billion every year, according to a 2006 analysis by Rein, D. B. et al. (Arch Ophthalmol. 124, 1754-1760).

NEI Director Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D., said “We are looking for new ideas to create standardized, reproducible 3-D retina organoids that can speed the discovery of treatments for diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic eye disease, both leading causes of blindness.”

The 3-D Retina Organoid Challenge will have two stages. The ideation stage will run until August 1, 2017 with the aim of developing ideas that can be turned into concrete concepts. Prizes totalling $100,000 will be awarded to scientists/teams that can come up with innovative ideas using the latest technology that will unleash the full potential of 3D retina organoids.

The NEI is encouraging teams – and individuals – from a wide range of biomedical fields to take part in the 3-D Retina Organoid Challenge, including researchers working in the fields of tissue engineering, vision research, 3D bioprinting, materials science, and developmental and stem cell biology. Undergraduates, postdoctoral researchers and trainees are also invited to take part in the first phase of the competition, with a special solver category set up exclusively for those individuals.

The second stage of the 3-D Retina Organoid Challenge will involve taking ideas forward and developing a functional retina organoid prototype. The second stage is expected to start in the fall of this year, with a prize fund of $1 million.

Further details of the 3-D Retina Organoid Challenge can be found on this link: https://nei.nih.gov/3DROC.

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