Funding granted for world class eye research

Post date: 
Monday, 15 June 2015

Funding has been awarded for nine vital projects that will research major causes of sight loss. 

Fight for Sight has awarded over £1.4 million in new grants for world-class eye research across the country.
Researchers will investigate a broad range of conditions from major causes of sight loss such as diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) to rare inherited eye conditions and sight loss following childhood brain surgery.
“I am continually inspired by the high quality of the research applications we are asked to support and by the commitment and dedication of these internationally renowned researchers to tackling sight loss and eye disease,” said Dr Dolores M Conroy, Director of Research at Fight for Sight.
Here is a sample of some of the projects.

Early Career Investigator Awards

Who: Dr Joe Rainger, University of Edinburgh
What: The genes and molecules involved in ‘keyhole’ eye development
Ocular coloboma is the most common eye condition affecting European children and accounts for up to 10 per cent of blindness. People with ocular coloboma usually have a missing part at the base of their eye that means the iris is shaped like a keyhole instead of being round. The gap can happen if the eye doesn’t fully close during development. If the gap extends into the eye it can severely affect vision.
Not much is known about the genetic causes of ocular coloboma. So in this study Dr Raigner will look at the genes and molecules involved when the eye develops normally and the gap fully closes. He will try to find out what can go wrong and whether it can be fixed.
Results from the project should also make it possible to relate people’s DNA data to the signs and symptoms they have. People with ocular coloboma may be able to have an accurate genetic diagnosis, and there may also be new potential targets for treatment.

Project grants

Who: Prof Shin-ichi Ohnuma, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology
What: Generating eye tissue and whole eyes for research and treatment 
The eye is a very complex organ made up of several different types of tissue and types of nerve cells. They all have to be connected in the right way, but at the moment there is no good method for generating a whole eye system in the lab. 
However, the research team has recently discovered a protein that can cause eye tissue to develop in frog embryos. The tissue could be used for transplants to treat people with sight loss or to test new drugs.
So the team wants to find out how the protein works and then to improve the process, so they can produce eye tissue or even whole eyes from human stem cells. As well as improving treatment, the results could also mean we need fewer animal experiments in medical research on sight loss in the future.
Who: Prof James Morgan, Cardiff University
What: What happens to optic nerve cells connections in glaucoma?
In glaucoma, the nerve cells that connect the eye to the brain (together called the optic nerve) become damaged. Previous animal studies have shown that damage to these connections happens in different stages, over a long period of time.
The team wants to find out if damage to human nerve cells follows the same pattern. They will use high-powered 3D-imaging to look at nerve cells in donated eyes from people with and without glaucoma. They will also try to see how the stage of nerve damage relates to data from the donor’s previous sight tests.
Results from the project will give more information about nerve cells in glaucoma including whether there’s a window of time in which damaged optic nerve cells could be revived. If so, it may one day be possible to give sight back to people with sight loss from glaucoma. At the moment, this is impossible.
Who: Prof Christopher Clark, UCL Institute of Child Health
What: Improving children’s vision following brain surgery for epilepsy
Surgery is an important option for children with epilepsy that doesn’t respond to drug treatments. But, unfortunately, brain operations can damage the nerve cells and pathways involved in vision.
Studies in adults have shown that advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to map the visual brain, but there haven’t been any studies in children yet. This is important because adult brains are different to children’s, including differences in the nature of epilepsy and visual problems after surgery.
In this study the researchers will develop a process for using brain imaging to map the visual pathway in children. They also hope to relate how removing brain tissue affects the child’s vision.
This is the first study of its kind in children.

Further information 

Find out about all the other research projects awarded funding
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