Scientists are working on eye transplants for vision loss. Who will sign up?

Scientists are working on eye transplants for vision loss. Who will sign up?

Often called the window to the soul, the eyes are more sacred than other body parts, at least for some.

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Awash in a fluid finely calibrated to keep it alive, a human eye rests inside a transparent cubic device. This ECaBox, or Eyes in a Care Box, is a one-of-a-kind system built by scientists at Barcelona’s Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG). Their goal is to preserve human eyes for transplantation and related research.

In recent years, scientists have learned to transplant delicate organs such as the liver, lungs or pancreas, but eyes are another story. Even when preserved at the average transplant temperature of 4 Centigrade, they last for 48 hours max. That's one explanation for why transplanting the whole eye isn’t possible—only the cornea, the dome-shaped, outer layer of the eye, can withstand the procedure. The retina, the layer at the back of the eyeball that turns light into electrical signals, which the brain converts into images, is extremely difficult to transplant because it's packed with nerve tissue and blood vessels.

These challenges also make it tough to research transplantation. “This greatly limits their use for experiments, particularly when it comes to the effectiveness of new drugs and treatments,” said Maria Pia Cosma, a biologist at Barcelona’s Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), whose team is working on the ECaBox.

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Stav Dimitropoulos
Stav Dimitropoulos's features have appeared in major outlets such as the BBC, National Geographic, Scientific American, Nature, Popular Mechanics, Science, Runner’s World, and more. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @TheyCallMeStav.
Therapies for Healthy Aging with Dr. Alexandra Bause
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My guest today is Dr. Alexandra Bause, a biologist who has dedicated her career to advancing health, medicine and healthier human lifespans. Dr. Bause co-founded a company called Apollo Health Ventures in 2017. Currently a venture partner at Apollo, she's immersed in the discoveries underway in Apollo’s Venture Lab while the company focuses on assembling a team of investors to support progress. Dr. Bause and Apollo Health Ventures say that biotech is at “an inflection point” and is set to become a driver of important change and economic value.


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Matt Fuchs
Matt Fuchs is the host of the Making Sense of Science podcast and served previously as the editor-in-chief of Leaps.org. He writes as a contributor to the Washington Post, and his articles have also appeared in the New York Times, WIRED, Nautilus Magazine, Fortune Magazine and TIME Magazine. Follow him @fuchswriter.
This man spent over 70 years in an iron lung. What he was able to accomplish is amazing.

Paul Alexander spent more than 70 years confined to an iron lung after a polio infection left him paralyzed at age 6. Here, Alexander uses a mirror attached to the top of his iron lung to view his surroundings.

Allison Smith / The Guardian

It’s a sight we don’t normally see these days: A man lying prone in a big, metal tube with his head sticking out of one end. But it wasn’t so long ago that this sight was unfortunately much more common.

In the first half of the 20th century, tens of thousands of people each year were infected by polio—a highly contagious virus that attacks nerves in the spinal cord and brainstem. Many people survived polio, but a small percentage of people who did were left permanently paralyzed from the virus, requiring support to help them breathe. This support, known as an “iron lung,” manually pulled oxygen in and out of a person’s lungs by changing the pressure inside the machine.

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Sarah Watts

Sarah Watts is a health and science writer based in Chicago.