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CLEVELAND—Eversight, a non-profit organization that facilitates the donation of eye tissue for transplantation, 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 and 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 said, 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. 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 at