Vision loss and blindness is caused by a variety of debilitating eye diseases affecting different structures of the eye (cornea, retina and optic nerve for example). Management of these diseases is a major global challenge, as well as within the UK. Regeneration and reconstruction of different parts of the eye have already been demonstrated through to therapies within the clinic, including by our own group (limbal stem cell therapy for the cornea).
Our aim in the Department is to develop and support research from the basic science in our laboratories to patients within the clinics in St Paul’s Eye Unit (Royal Liverpool University Hospital), with whom we have an established long-term partnership.
Our research focuses on the following areas of the eye:
- Limbal stem cell therapy for corneal disease. We have developed an animal product free culture system for human limbal stem cells that has already been used successfully in clinical trials. We have also developed an in vitro model to understand corneal epithelial differentiation from pluripotent stem cells. We are currently investigating the homeostasis of the ocular surface.
- Corneal endothelial cell replacement for corneal endothelial failure. Corneal endothelial (CE) cells prevent the cornea from becoming waterlogged and hazy. We have identified PET cells (Progenitor cells of the Endothelium and Trabeculum) and are using these to develop a tissue-engineered approach to produce corneal endothelial sheets for transplantation in corneal endothelial failure.
- Conjunctival cell replacement for conjunctival scarring diseases. The conjunctiva protects the surface of the eye. The conjunctival epithelium becomes irreversibly destroyed by inflammatory, neoplastic conditions and traumatic injury. We have identified stem cell-rich areas of the conjunctiva, and are developing substrates with differing physical properties to address a range of transplantation requirements.
- Trabecular meshwork regeneration for glaucoma. The trabecular meshwork is the main outflow pathway in the eye and it is affected in glaucoma. We are investigating how PET cells (Progenitor cells of the Endothelium and Trabeculum) in the posterior limbus of the eye can be used in cell replacement strategies for the trabecular meshwork.
- Sub-retinal cell transplantation for retinal diseases. Age-related macular degeneration is the main cause of irreversible vision loss in people of 65 years and older. We are researching how to implant a differentiated, functioning monolayer of pigment epithelial cells using an artificial membrane creating a tissue engineered construct. We have particular expertise in the biomaterials aspects of this work.
Our key investigators include stem cell biologists, biomaterials experts and clinicians: Carl Sheridan, Rachel Williams, Kevin Hamill, Stephen Kaye, Ian Grierson, Victoria Kearns and Hannah Levis.
Our cross-disciplinary collaborators: Simon Harding (Clinical Trials), Colin Willoughby (Eye Genetics), Vito Romano (Corneal fellow, St Paul’s), Yalin Zheng (Imaging), the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (GMP work) and NHS Blood and Transplant.
Our funders: MRC, EPSCRC, Fight for Sight, International Glaucoma Association, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Foundation for the Prevention of Blindness, The Ulverscroft Foundation, Brian Mercer Charitable Trust, The Macular Society, and The NC3Rs.