July 22, 2015

Cornea Bank Set for Memphis

By Jane Roberts
– The Commercial Appeal –

Memphis will have the largest concentration of corneas and other eye tissue for transplant and research in the world after Tissue Banks International builds a $3 million eye bank here. The facility will centralize cornea screening and shipping and shorten transplant waits in the Mid-South.

The Baltimore-based organization will eventually ship 10,000 corneas and other tissues a year from here, according to Kathleen Terlizzese, Tissue Banks International president.

“We picked Memphis for its proximity to FedEx and all the wonderful things going on there in the biotech industry.”

With a $500,000 grant from the Plough Foundation announced Monday, the organization has leased 8,000 square feet at Mt. Moriah and Interstate 240 and is preparing to start its around-the-clock operation this fall.

The grant addresses a number of important issues, said Rick Masson, the Plough Foundation’s executive director.

“No.1, it speaks to the human need in this community by reducing the wait for people needing products the eye bank will provide.

“It will also improve the reliability of tissues available to surgeons around the world,” he said.

Tissue Bank International has 42 offices around the world, including 33 in the United States.

Because of stricter Federal Drug Administration oversight of tissue banks, the organization decided it would be more efficient to combine cornea processing operations.

“One location ensures a more uniform standard of quality, gives us better operating efficiencies because we are working on a larger scale and allows us to make more tissues and medical information available for eye research,” Terlizzese said.

Corneas not suitable for transplant will be offered to researchers to find cures for blindness.

The cornea is a clear piece of tissue covering the front of the eye. Blindness can occur if it is damaged by disease or trauma.

In the United States, the cornea transplant success rate – one of the most common transplants in the world – surpasses 90 percent.

Tissue Bank International plans to hire about 20 people and hopes to recruit from the Southern College of Optometry.

“This is cutting-edge technology that will be located here, complementing the effort the city is making in bioworks,” Masson said.

The connection is critical, according to Steve Bares, president and executive director of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation.

Between the college of optometry and the University of Tennessee Hamilton Eye Institute, Memphis offers “clinical, teaching and research and facilities, all within the medical district,” Bares said.

“(Tissue Bank International) has to keep on the leading edge of what is going on in eye surgery. Between the two, they can do that,” said Bares, a member of the team that courted the organization.

“Word is getting out about Memphis and biotechnology.”