Ideation winner and honorable mention

The National Eye Institute awarded $90,000 in prize money to a team led by Erin Lavik, Sc.D., at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, for its concept to create a living model of the human retina. Lavik’s team participated in the 3-D Retina Organoid Challenge (3-D ROC) “ideation” phase, which asked participants for ideas to generate human retinas from stem cells. Concepts were evaluated based on their innovativeness and feasibility. A review panel assessed how each proposal addressed scientific challenges such as how to assemble distinct and anatomically correct layers of retinal tissue, assess retinal cell function, and use the prototypes to understand diseases or test therapies. 

A follow-on “reduction to practice,” or implementation, challenge will ask participants to submit publication-quality data showing they can build functional human retina tissue. 

Winning team

  • Erin Lavik, ScD, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  • Steven Bernstein, MD, PhD, University of Maryland Medical School
  • Adam Day, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  • Bryan Ibarra, University of Miami

The team’s idea is to build a retina by screen printing adult neural progenitor-derived retinal neurons in layers that mimic the structure of the human retina. The system is scalable and efficient which should enable the high reproducibility and increased throughput necessary for drug testing. 

Honorable mention teams

Five teams were also recognized with honorable mention.

Carrier team

  • Rebecca Carrier, PhD, Northeastern University
  • Michael Young, PhD, Schepens Eye Research Institute
  • Joyce Y Wong, PhD, Boston University
  • Joydip Kundu, PhD, Northeastern University
  • Petr Baranov, MD, PhD, Schepens Eye Research Institute
  • Mike Ferguson, Boston University

Their organoid-microvessel co-culture system proposes to add vasculature embedded in a biomimetic hydrogel to organoids to increase oxygen and nutrient flow and mimic chemical and physical cues present in developing eye tissue. The system also includes retinal pigmented epithelium and can be used to model and study age-related macular degeneration (AMD). 

Gamm team

  • David Gamm, MD, PhD, University of Wisconsin
  • William Murphy, PhD, University of Wisconsin
  • Nader Sheibani, PhD, University of Wisconsin
  • Chris Sorenson, PhD University of Wisconsin
  • Bikash Pattnaik, PhD, University of Wisconsin 
  • Melissa Skala, PhD University of Wisconsin

In the eye, the outer neural retina is fed via diffusion while the inner neural retina requires a separate microvasculature that is absent in organoids. This results in disparity in outer vs. inner neural retina survival and function in vitro. The team proposes to incorporate a perfusable inner retinal microvasculature using microfluidic technology and to model retinal microvascular diseases such as diabetic retinopathy.

Liu team

  • Wei Liu, PhD, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
  • Rui Chen, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine
  • Z. Jimmy Zhou, PhD, Yale School of Medicine
  • Albert Lowe, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

The protocol efficiently generates retina organoids by altering key time-consuming variable steps. They propose to engineer additional retinal tissues on scaffolds and use the system to study Leber Congenital Amaurosis.   

Pelaez team

  • Daniel Pelaez, PhD, University of Miami
  • J. William Harbour, MD, University of Miami
  • Zenith Acosta, University of Miami

The team’s novel tissue bioreactor system compartmentalizes and creates gradients of stimuli such that the maturation of inner and outer retinal cells are induced separately. The system recapitulates the normal physiology in which the retina is exposed to a steep gradient of oxygen tensions across the highly oxygenated outer retina, and the hypoxic inner retina and can be used to model Retinoblastoma. 

Schenke-Layland team

  • Katja Schenke-Layland, PhD, Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology
  • Stefan Liebau, PhD, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen
  • Peter Loskill, PhD, Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology

The culture system proposed allows for 3-D co-culture of retinal organoids, retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and further cell types in a defined and reproducible microenvironment, featuring a physiological vasculature-like perfusion for multiple weeks. Their 3-D Retina-on-a-chip system features 48 individual units in an integrated chip with standard well plate-dimensions that will be amenable for high content drug screening.

Last updated: July 18, 2019