Goal: Develop a physiologically competent 3-D retina organoid model 

The National Eye Institute (NEI) has its sights set on stimulating researchers to move rapidly toward treatments for retinal diseases. The NEI 3-D Retina Organoid Challenge (3D ROC) is a prize competition to develop a physiologically-competent 3-D retina organoid  model.  A retina organoid is similar to a human retina but it’s grown in a lab from stem cells. Scientists can use retina organoids to study eye diseases and treatments.

Focus of the Challenge Competition

Around the world, an estimated 285 million people are visually impaired; of these, 39 million are blind. In many cases, blindness and vision loss are the result of retina-damaging diseases that, if better understood, could be treated or have interventions applied to stop degeneration or provide protection to remaining viable cells. One limitation in furthering retinal research is that eye tissue is not readily available to study disease processes and test new therapies. However, retina biology researchers have developed methods to grow 3-D retina models in vitro from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) and human embryonic stem cells (hESC). Current protocols vary in their strengths and limitations, but none can robustly recapitulate the complexity and functionality of the retina.

In this Challenge, NEI seeks 3-D human retina organoid prototypes that are physiologically relevant. Such model systems could be transformational for vision research and regenerative medicine. New models could be used for applications such as understanding eye development, studying retinal biology, modeling diseases, identifying and testing treatments, and serving as a tissue source to use in transplantation. In this Challenge, solution(s) should yield reproducible, retina organoid models that represent the complexity, structure, and function of the human retina and are amenable for use in either modeling diseases or high-content screening (see Evaluation Criteria & Point Allocation).

Spurring Research, Collaboration, & New Treatments

With this challenge, we aim to:

  • Deliver a robust 3-D retina organoid system that the broader research community can leverage for their work.
  • Galvanize cross-discipline collaborations to encourage transformational advances that will result in  meaningful  therapies.
  • Eliminate limitations in current organoid protocols and accelerate development of  3-D retina organoids that  faithfully model  human  tissue.
  • Model retinal diseases and test treatments in a system directly relevant  to  humans.

Phase I & II

Phase I of 3DROC took place from May 1, 2017 – September 2017.

Phase II was launched in 2018 and culminated in December 2020.

View the Awards & Recognition of Phase I & II of 3-D ROC.

Upcoming Important Phase III Dates

Mandatory Registration: October 1, 2021 - All teams planning to submit for the final deadline are required to register their intent to participate by October 1, 2021.   For this mandatory registration, teams will need to submit an abstract, category planning to submit to (disease modeling & drug screening), and a list of team members along with a meeting consult with the NEI Office of Regenerative Medicine. Submitting data is optional but teams will be given feedback to help aid their progress in December 2021.

Final Deadline: June 1, 2022 at 2:00p ET

Announcement of 3DROC Phase III Results: September 2022

3DROC image

Benefits for Scientists who Participate in this Challenge:

Participants of 3-D ROC have a chance to win up to $875k in prizes (only U.S. citizens and permanent residents are eligible to win prize purse) . They will be exposed to industry partners, vision advocacy groups, small businesses, cell banks, and other stakeholders. Participants have the opportunity to team up with scientists from diverse fields such as developmental biology, stem cell biology, bioengineering, and materials  science. 

Rules for Participation

Solvers must be 18 years of age or older and may participate singly or as part of no more than two teams. NEI will allow each solver to be a team lead on one proposal and a team member on one other proposal. Therefore, each solver may be involved in 2 proposals total. Team formation is encouraged and teams are not limited in the number of members. Each team must designate a captain who must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who is responsible for all correspondence regarding this Challenge.

  • To be eligible to win a prize under this challenge, an individual or entity—
    • Shall have complied with all the requirements set forth in this Notice;
    • In the case of a private entity, shall be incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States, and in the case of an individual, whether participating singly or in a group, shall be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States. However, non-U.S. citizens and non-permanent residents can participate as a member of a team that otherwise satisfies the eligibility criteria. Non-U.S. citizens and non-permanent residents are not eligible to win a monetary prize (in whole or in part). Their participation as part of a winning team, if applicable, may be recognized when the results are announced.
    • May not be a Federal entity or federal employee acting within the scope of their employment;
    • May not be an employee of HHS (or any component of HHS) acting in their personal capacity;
    • Who is employed by a federal agency or entity other than HHS (or any component of HHS), should consult with an agency Ethics Official to determine whether the federal ethics rules will limit or prohibit the acceptance of a prize under this challenge;
    • May not be a judge of the challenge, or any other party involved with the design, production, execution, or distribution of the Challenge or the immediate family of such a party (i.e., spouse, parent, step-parent, child, or step-child).
  • Submissions must not infringe upon any copyright or any other rights of any third party.
  • By participating in this Challenge, each individual (whether competing singly or in a group) and entity agrees to assume any and all risks and waive claims against the Federal government and its related entities (as defined in the COMPETES Act), except in the case of willful misconduct, for any injury, death, damage, or loss of property, revenue, or profits, whether direct, indirect, or consequential, arising from participation in this Challenge, whether the injury, death, damage, or loss arises through negligence or otherwise.
  • Based on the subject matter of the Challenge, the type of work that it will possibly require, as well as an analysis of the likelihood of any claims for death, bodily injury, property damage, or loss potentially resulting from Challenge participation, no individual (whether competing singly or in a group) or entity participating in the Challenge is required to obtain liability insurance or demonstrate financial responsibility in order to participate in this Challenge.
  • By participating in this Challenge, each individual (whether competing singly or in a group) and entity agrees to indemnify the Federal government against third party claims for damages arising from or related to Challenge activities.
  • An individual or entity shall not be deemed ineligible because the individual or entity used Federal facilities or consulted with Federal employees during the Challenge if the facilities and employees are made available to all individuals and entities participating in the Challenge on an equitable basis.
  •  NIH reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to (a) cancel, suspend, or modify the Challenge, and/or (b) not award any prizes if no entries are deemed worthy.
  • Each individual (whether participating singly or in a group) or entity agrees to follow all federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and policies, including the NIH Guidelines for Human Stem Cell Research, NIH policy on human fetal tissue research described in Sec. 4.1.14 of the NIH Grants Policy Statement, the HHS Regulations for the Protection of Human Subjects (45 CFR 46), and the NIH Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant or Synthetic Nucleic Acid Molecules, as applicable. If human embryonic stem cells are used, only cell lines listed on the NIH Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry are eligible for use. Appropriate biosafety practices should be employed; see Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories as a reference manual.
  • By participating in this Challenge, each individual (whether participating singly or in a group) warrants that he or she is the sole author or owner of, or has the right to use, any copyrightable works that the Submission comprises, that the works are wholly original with the Solver (or is an improved version of an existing work that the Solver has sufficient rights to use and improve), and that the Submission does not infringe any copyright or any other rights of any third party of which Solver is aware. In addition, each individual (whether participating singly or in a group) and each entity grants to the NIH an irrevocable, paid-up, royalty-free nonexclusive worldwide license to reproduce, publish, post, link to, share, and display publicly (e.g., on websites) the submission and abstracts on the web or elsewhere, and a nonexclusive, nontransferable, irrevocable, paid-up license to practice, or have practiced for or on its behalf, the solution throughout the world. Each participant will retain all other intellectual property rights in their submissions, as applicable. To participate in the Challenge, each Solver must warrant that there are no legal obstacles to providing the above-referenced nonexclusive licenses of Solver's rights to the federal government. To receive an award, Solvers will not be required to transfer their intellectual property rights to NIH, but Solvers must grant to the federal government the nonexclusive licenses recited herein.
  • Federal grantees or recipients of cooperative agreements may not use Federal funds from a grant award or cooperative agreement to develop their challenge submissions or to fund efforts in support of their challenge submissions unless use of such funds is consistent with the purpose, terms, and conditions of the grant award or cooperative agreement. Grantees or recipients of cooperative agreements intending to use Federal funds must register for and participate in the challenge on behalf of the awardee institution, organization, or entity. If a grantee or recipient of a cooperative agreement uses Federal funds and wins the challenge, the prize must be treated as program income for purposes of the original grant in accordance with applicable Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards (2 CFR § 200).
  • Each individual (whether participating singly or in a group) and entity participating in this Challenge must comply with all terms and conditions of these rules, and participation in this Challenge constitutes each such participant’s full and unconditional agreement to abide by these rules. Winning is contingent upon fulfilling all requirements herein.

How to submit?

Last updated: August 2, 2021