Fight for Sight awards new grants for 13 vital eye research projects

Fight for Sight partners with nine different organizations to fund impactful and innovative research

Fight for Sight, the leading eye research charity, has awarded grants totaling over £180,000 for thirteen vital research projects in partnership with nine different organizations. Fight for Sight has doubled its partnership working from the previous year, to further extend their impact and support for innovative research.

New funds have been awarded to support research in these key areas:

Dementia and visual impairment:

For the first time, Fight for Sight and Alzheimer’s Research UK have teamed up to fund research into sight loss and dementia as many people with neurodegenerative diseases have problems with their vision. Pearse Keane from UCL’s Institute of Ophthalmology will aim to detect Alzheimer’s disease through images of the retina. Working with researchers from Moorfields, who will analyze a database of over 2 million eye scans, the team will identify features in the scans which are common to people who have developed a neurodegenerative disease. The longer term aim is to develop a screening tool for earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease. The research will also enable a better understanding of why people with neurodegenerative diseases have problems with their vision.

Dementia and age-related macular degeneration (AMD):

Fight for Sight and Alzheimer’s Research UK are also jointly funding a project being led by Dr J. Arjuna Ratnayaka from the University of Southampton. Both Alzheimer’s disease and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have been linked with a group of misfolded proteins called amyloid beta (Aβ). The aim of this research is to study how Aβ proteins in the vitreous, the substance that fills the center of the eye, change with age and disease progression. The research team will collect vitreous samples from AMD patients, screen for changes in Aβ levels and compare the results to those from healthy individuals. This research could help further prove that changes to retinal Aβ levels may be an effective biomarker for high-risk individuals likely to develop AMD before the actual symptoms of sight loss occur.

Birdshot uveitis:

Fight for Sight is partnering with Birdshot Uveitis Society to fund Professor Alastair Denniston’s research into birdshot chorioretinopathy which is taking place at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust. The world’s first National Birdshot Biobank and Registry has been created, which is enabling researchers and clinicians to work towards better outcomes for birdshot treatments. Professor Denniston will study the genetic makeup of birdshot patients to understand the causes of the condition and develop ways to predict disease progression.

Glaucoma:

Fight for Sight and International Glaucoma Association are supporting a research project by Professor Colin Willoughby from Ulster University. Using the Treatment of Advance Glaucoma Study (TAGS), which has recruited over 450 patients, Professor Willoughby will explore the genetics of patients with advanced glaucoma. His team will provide predictive testing to improve early diagnosis. This will identify patients at risk of progression and may help to explain why the disease differs between different ethnic groups.

Fight for Sight will also fund a project led by Dr Andrew Osbourne from the University of Cambridge, whose objective will be to improve our understanding of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) signaling in human retinal tissue. BDNF and its receptor, tropomyosin-related kinase-B (TrkB), help maintain the survival of retinal ganglion cells, which gradually die, leading to sight loss and eventually blindness. This research could help treat patients with progressive glaucoma, particularly those who receive treatment to lower intra-ocular eye pressure yet still experience deterioration of their vision.

Retinal vascular disease:

Fight for Sight in partnership with National Eye Research Centre is funding Dr Adam Dubis from Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust to create a database of normal eye blood flow features. This will define a range of healthy blood flow so that abnormal blood flow can be better identified. This information could result in improved diagnostic markers and potentially better treatments and patient management.

Leber hereditary optic neuropathy:

Fight for Sight and Thomas Pocklington Trust are jointly funding Dr Patrick Yu Wai Man at the University of Cambridge. His research will make use of functional MRI to get high-resolution “real time” images of the visual pathways from the eye all the way back to the vision centres in the brain. Researchers will map out the chronological changes that occur along those pathways and in the brain after the onset of vision loss in individuals with Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON). The researchers will explore whether functional MRI could prove useful as an assessment tool in future treatment trials. The knowledge gained will also help provide more accurate counseling to patients with LHON.

Corneal and external eye conditions:

Fight for Sight has funded Dr Mohammed Al-Aqaba from The University of Nottingham. A healthy ocular surface relies on stem cells replenishing old and damaged cells. The research team have discovered novel receptors which could play a pivotal role in the maintenance of this process. The aim of this research is to characterise the structure of these novel receptors which play a role in the regulation of stem cells and the micro-environment around the cornea. The results could reveal the function of these receptors and their role in the prevention of blindness.

This latest round of Fight for Sight small grants also includes funding for the following projects:

  • Dr Maryse Bailly – funded in partnership with British Thyroid Foundation - A novel pathway regulating adipogenesis in Thyroid Eye Disease: characterization of spontaneous lipogenesis and validation of novel therapeutic targets
  • Dr Lee Mcilreavy – funded in partnership with Nystagmus Network - Diagnosing infantile nystagmus: a novel eye tracking approach
  • Dr Helen Griffiths – funded in partnership with Nystagmus Network - Nystagmus Stabilisation with Virtual Reality Technology
  • Dr Greg Elder – funded in partnership with Thomas Pocklington Trust and Esme’s Umbrella- Visual hallucinations in Charles Bonnet Syndrome: a neuroimaging comparison study with non-hallucinating control individuals
  • Miss Swan Kang – funded in partnership with Thyroid Eye Disease Charitable Trust - Characterization of anterior segment vasculature in thyroid eye disease using optical coherence tomography angiography

The next Fight for Sight small grants round opens for applications in May 2018 – keep an eye on the Fight for Sight web site for details: https://www.fightforsight.org.uk/apply-for-funding/

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