CLEVELAND, Nov. 19, 2020 — Eversight today announced research findings showing a small but noteworthy prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in ocular tissues from individuals who died from COVID-19. The findings were presented Nov. 7 at the 2020 Cornea and Eye Banking Forum and Prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in human post-mortem ocular tissues has been published in The Ocular Surface.
A team of researchers from Eversight, Wayne State University, University of Michigan and Rush University conducted the study in Cleveland, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Mich. and New Jersey—regions heavily impacted by COVID-19.
The ongoing investigation has been supported by the Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA), National Eye Institute (NEI) and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID). Findings underscore the critical importance of eye donor screening guidelines, postmortem nasopharyngeal PCR testing for detecting SARS-CoV-2 RNA, and povidone-iodine (PVP-I) disinfection at the time of tissue recovery, the authors say, to mitigate potential risk of transmitting SARS-CoV-2 through eye tissue donation and transplantation.
“From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, potential infiltration of SARS-CoV-2 in ocular tissues has been a concern,” said study co-author Onkar B. Sawant, PhD, Director of Research, Eversight Center for Vision and Eye Banking Research. “Determining that risk is critically important to ophthalmologists, the global eye banking industry and the millions of people in need of sight-restoring transplants worldwide.”
Corneal transplantation is a highly safe ophthalmic procedure with a greater than 90 percent success rate in restoring eyesight. With any tissue transplant, however, there remains a very small potential risk of transmitting infectious agents from donors to recipients. Importantly, respiratory viruses like COVID-19 are not known to be transmitted by implantation, transplantation, infusion or transfer of human cells or tissues.¹ To mitigate risk of any infection, Eversight follows stringent tissue safety protocols including extensive donor screening and testing.
“Our primary motivator is to ensure safe tissue for our surgeons and their patients,” Dr. Sawant said. “These findings support the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 may be present in ocular tissues, but more research is needed to determine if the virus can be transmitted from person-to-person through the ocular surface, or through transplantation.”
Dr. Sawant will dive into the background, methods, findings and interpretations of this ongoing, collaborative investigation in a live, interactive Eversight Webinar on Dec. 14. Register today at eversightvision.org/webinars.
The research is led by investigators and co-first authors:
- Onkar B. Sawant, PhD, Eversight Center for Vision and Eye Banking Research, Cleveland, Ohio; and
- Sneha Singh, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Ophthalmology, Visual and Anatomical Sciences, Wayne State University, Detroit.
Corresponding authors include:
- Ashok Kumar, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, Visual and Anatomical Sciences, Wayne State University, Detroit; and
- Shahzad I. Mian, MD, Professor of Ophthalmology, University of Michigan Medical School, Kellogg Eye Center, Michigan Medicine, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Other co-authors include:
- Parag A. Majmudar, MD, Associate Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, Rush University, Chicago;
- Michael S. Titus, CEBT, Vice President of Clinical Operations, Eversight, Ann Arbor, Mich.;
- Kayla M. Jones, Eversight Center for Vision and Eye Banking Research, Cleveland, Ohio;
- Eric Hicks, Department of Clinical Operations, Eversight, Ann Arbor, Mich.;
- Eugene Dennis, Department of Clinical Operations, Eversight, Clark, N.J.; and
- Robert Emery Wright III, Department of Ophthalmology, Visual and Anatomical Sciences, Wayne State University, Detroit.
Eversight is a nonprofit organization with a mission to restore sight and prevent blindness through the healing power of donation, transplantation and research. The Eversight network is responsible for recovering, evaluating and providing human eye tissue for transplantation; supporting research into the causes and cures of blinding eye conditions; promoting donation awareness through public and professional education; and providing humanitarian aid to people around the world in need of corneal transplantation. Operating in Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and South Korea, Eversight works in collaboration with surgeons, researchers, academic medical centers and eye banks across the United States and abroad. For more information, visit eversightvision.org.
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