Fight for Sight cataract researcher wins international award

07 May 15

written by:

Ade Deane-Pratt

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USA’s National Foundation for Eye Research recognises Dr Michael Wormstone's significant scientific work on the lens

Dr Michael Wormstone of the University of East Anglia has won the 2015 Cataract Research Award. This prestigious international prize is given each year by the USA’s National Foundation for Eye Research to recognise significant scientific work on the lens. Dr Wormstone is currently funded through Fight for Sight to reduce the risk of a common complication of cataract surgery.

Cataract surgery is the most common surgical procedure performed by NHS England, with almost 400,000 operations carried out in 2011-12. During surgery, the clouded part of the lens is replaced with a clear artificial lens, restoring vision.

Secondary sight loss

However, over time as the eye recovers from surgery, a secondary sight loss known as ‘after-cataract’ can develop. This is due to a process known as posterior capsule opacification (PCO) in which lens cells that remain after surgery multiply and grow behind the artificial lens. PCO happens in about 20-30% of eyes by 2-3 years after surgery.

Michael Wormstone graduated from the University of East Anglia with a PhD in lens cell biology, following an undergraduate degree in pharmacology. He became a permanent member of faculty in 2002 and has published extensively on wound healing following cataract surgery. He is now generally regarded as the World’s leading expert in this field.

How does PCO develop?

Dr Wormstone and his laboratory team use human cell and tissue culture models to try to understand how PCO develops. In addition to studying a new artificial lens that can help prevent PCO, the team has been looking for biological factors that control PCO and using this information identifiy targets for drug treatment.

Dr Dolores M Conroy, Director of Research at Fight for Sight said:

“Fight for Sight is really thrilled to see Michael Wormstone’s research recognised with this international prize. Cataract is responsible for 51% of the world’s blindness, so his work to minimise PCO following surgery could potentially have a huge impact both here and abroad. Preventing PCO is certainly very high on the list, both for people affected by cataract and healthcare professionals, as we saw in the Sight Loss and Vision Priority Setting Partnership.”

“I am obviously pleased personally to win the award, but it very much reflects the efforts of the whole team and places into context the international reputation of the lab and the significant contributions our work is making to the field,” said Dr Wormstone.

Directing growth

“We’ve already made considerable progress toward understanding how regrowth of the cells in the remaining part of the natural lens can lead to secondary sight loss following surgery. We are currently working to control that growth through targeted drug treatments and improved designs of artificial lenses, which could lower the risk of PCO.”

The Cataract Research Award was presented to Dr Wormstone at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) meeting, held on May 3-7 2015, in Denver, Colorado, USA. ARVO is the largest gathering of eye and vision researchers in the world. The award consists of a plaque and a gift of $2,500.