MEET: Erin Lavik, professor at University of Maryland Baltimore County, Baltimore, Maryland
THE CHALLENGE: Launched in June 2017 the NEI 3-D Retina Organoid Challenge, sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Eye Institute (NEI), sought innovative ideas for a 3-D system that models the cellular organization and function of the human retina. Such artificial retinas could help researchers in their study and understanding of eye disease. Winners were announced in September 2017.
THE PRIZE: $90,000
THE SOLUTION: Lavik’s team won the prize with a new approach to making a retina that combines screen-printing materials developed in her lab with cells from fellow professor Steven Bernstein’s work. The idea is to screen-print the gels and cells to make a functional retinal model.
IN HER OWN WORDS…
WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF YOUR SOLUTION?
We’re still in the early stages, but we hope that this will provide a platform for understanding eye diseases and allow the rapid screening of drugs to treat those diseases.
HOW HAS PARTICIPATING IN THIS CHALLENGE HELPED YOU ADVANCE YOUR WORK?
It has provided us with the seed funds to start building the models. None of us have ever participated in a challenge like this before. It was a completely different sort of experience. This was much shorter than the typical grant proposals we pursue and was focused much more on the idea and potential than our previous work. It has allowed us to think about the work in a more open-ended way that we would not have otherwise.
We are working on building and validating the model. We are extremely grateful to the NEI for this opportunity.
Since its inception in 2010, GSA’s Challenge.gov program has provided resources and training to federal agencies using crowdsourcing competitions to solve critical problems. More than 800 competitions have been listed on Challenge.gov, where citizens can find and participate in crowdsourcing events open to the public. Success Stories is an ongoing series that highlights past winners and their work.