Infant eye research 'could impact millions'

Iowa Lions Eye Bank.JPG

Tragedy is as inevitable to those living as death, and losing a child is atop the list of potential tragedies for many parents.

Eight eastern Iowa families are coping with the loss of their infant through eye donation to the Iowa Lions Eye Bank in Coralville.

The infants' eyes are being studied by researchers at the University of Iowa, including Rob Mullins, a professor of ophthalmology, to better understand the fovea, a small part of the retina responsible for the eye's sharpest vision.

"We don't appreciate how valuable [the fovea] is because it's such a small part of the retina," says Mullins, adding the fovea only develops in the retina of humans and primates.

Understanding the fovea, Mullins insists, is imperative to improving vision treatment.

The majority of those involved in the Infant Globe Project are parents, including the eye bank's director of clinical operations Adam Stockman, who recovers eyes, including those of the newborns.

"That is somebody's brother, mom, dad, son -- it's somebody's loved one," says Stockman of the deceased who graciously donate their eyes to science. "That's something we never forget when we're out on the recovery."

Stockman recalls his wife was pregnant with the couple's second child when the Infant Globe Project was launched in 2013.

"It is very emotional for me," says Stockman, adding he can remember "everything about everyone of these cases.

"But the thing that gets me through it is the work that [Mullins and the Wynn Institute of Vision Research at the University of Iowa] is doing."

Mullins says he's optimistic the first retinal transplant to improve vision is now a "matter of when, not if" and credits the "brave parents" who donated their child's eyes to making these strides possible.

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