Nicole Wagner, CEO of UConn TIP company LambdaVision, works in the lab at the Cell and Genome Sciences Building in Farmington
Nicole Wagner pipettes in the lab at Lambavision at the Cell and Genome Sciences Building in Farmington on June 9, 2017. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

LambdaVision, an innovative biotech founded on UConn technology, along with implementation partner, Space Tango, has been selected by NASA for a $5 million award. This new funding will support LambdaVision’s development of the first protein-based artificial retina to restore meaningful vision for patients who are blind or have lost significant sight due to advanced retinitis pigmentosa (RP), with follow-on applications in age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness for adults over 55 years old. As part of this award, LambdaVision and Space Tango will explore the benefits of microgravity for producing the startup’s artificial retina on the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory located in low-Earth orbit (LEO).

LambdaVision Inc. was based on research by Robert Birge, PhD, professor emeritus in UConn’s Department of Chemistry. He first considered using the light-activated protein, bacteriorhodopsin, more than 15 years ago to correct age-related blindness and inherited retinal disorders. Today, the company is commercializing its technology at UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP) in the hopes of restoring vision for millions of patients with a retinal implant that utilizes this protein. LambdaVision’s protein-based artificial retina naturally mimics the light-absorbing properties of human photoreceptors and is capable of activating the degenerative retinas of blind patients.

“We are grateful to UConn for the continued support we’ve received as we develop this technology,” says Jordan Greco, PhD, chief scientific officer of LambdaVision and UConn alum. “Partnering with Space Tango and working closely with NASA continues to be an impactful experience that is providing new insight in the development of our artificial retina, and we are confident that this work will one day benefit patients who have lost their sight. It is also our hope that LambdaVision’s work will inspire new research and commercial product development that can help foster a thriving low-Earth orbit economy.”

The new NASA award will cover a series of flights to the ISS over three years to evaluate and improve on-orbit production processes, and to produce artificial retinas that will then be evaluated on Earth for the potential to restore vision to patients suffering from retinal degenerative diseases. Once validated, this process could also provide the foundation for a number of products that could be manufactured in space with clinical benefit to patients and process improvement across  technology industries on Earth.

LambdaVision’s implantable technology is produced through a layer-by-layer manufacturing process that ensures the artificial retina is dense enough to absorb appropriate amounts of light. While layer-by-layer production processes are used on Earth for multiple applications, LambdaVision researchers believe that production in microgravity may reduce the amount of materials required to produce the artificial retina, lower costs, and accelerate production time for future pre-clinical and clinical efforts.

Exploring production of the artificial retina for a rare disease before moving to diseases which affect a significantly larger portion of the population, such as AMD, provides several strategic advantages toward the creation of a new LEO biomedical sector. These include more manageable production volumes required to supply clinical trials, and a step-wise transition to commercial production volumes and scale required for future applications reaching a larger patient population. Upon finalization of optimal production processes and pre-clinical studies, LambdaVision intends to initiate clinical trials for the treatment of advanced RP.

“As we explore the seemingly immense ways in which microgravity can benefit the development and production of a wide range of products, our long-term collaboration with LambdaVision continues to provide us with valuable learnings that might one day help some patients regain sight and may also lead to other important production discoveries,” says Twyman Clements, co-founder and chief executive officer of Space Tango.


Article courtesy of Jessica McBride, PhD – Office of the Vice President for Research