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Transplantation of Human Eye Allografts funding program announced by ARPA-H

The Problem

The leading causes of vision loss are diseases of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, and the optic nerve that feeds visual information to the brain. While we have tools to correct problems with the lens and cornea at the front of the eye – like glasses, contacts, and cataract surgery - current technology doesn’t have a solution for the deterioration of the nerve cells necessary for vision.

The Current State

Today, advanced techniques like laser eye surgery and even corneal transplants from donor tissue are common. However, none of these interventions address the nerve cells’ health at the back of the eye. These cells and the optic nerve they are connected to are necessary for conducting visual input to the brain. For the top three leading causes of blindness in the U.S. – glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy – there are no cures and only limited therapies that slow progressive visual impairment. Restoring lost vision is not possible with current approaches.

The Challenge

The Transplantation of Human Eye Allografts, or THEA, program intends to enable whole functional eye transplantation to restore vision for the blind and visually impaired. In addition, THEA aims to develop new technologies or therapies to preserve or regrow nerves from the eye to the brain. These regenerative solutions could help prevent degenerative blindness and are a necessary step toward successful whole eye transplantation.

The Solution

To achieve THEA’s goals, the program invites proposals under three technical areas focused on (1) retrieval of donor eyes and tissue preservation, (2) optic nerve repair and regeneration, and (3) surgical procedures, post-operative care, and functional assessment.
The success of the program extends far beyond eye transplants and vision restoration. Techniques in microsurgery and gene or cell-based therapies for nerve regeneration may have the potential to be applied to other types of nervous system damage, including spinal cord injury. By starting with the eye’s nerves, the outputs of THEA could improve research into brain repair as well.
More information is available: