Researchers advance their ground-breaking work with over £1million funding and Harvard University studies

18 January 22

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Professor MacLaren and his research team

Fight for Sight researchers are advancing their ground-breaking work through a post-doctoral research position at Harvard University and over £1million in further grant funding.

PhD student Laurel Chandler and Dr Kanmin Xue worked alongside Oxford University’s Professor MacLaren to investigate how gene therapy can be applied to a multitude of sight loss conditions.  

Starting back in 2010, Professor MacLaren’s programme of work has sought to explore how gene therapy could halt disease progression in choroideremia, a rare genetic eye condition which mainly affects men.

The trial even restored sight to some participants like Joe Pepper, 30, who was diagnosed with choroideremia aged six.

Professor MacLaren and his team then started investigations about how to develop gene therapy techniques for other inherited eye conditions like Stargardt disease and retinitis pigmentosa – for which there is currently no cure. The results from this project have improved understanding of gene therapy-associated retinal inflammation and provided a clinically viable method to improve the efficacy and safety of retinal gene therapy.

Now, Dr Kanmin Xue, co-supervisor and author on the project has been awarded a £1.2m Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Development Fellowship to study retinal degenerations further, and to develop new approaches in the treatment of age-related macular degeneration and uveitis.

In addition, Laurel Chandler, whose PhD studentship was funded by Fight for Sight in 2017, successfully obtained a new position as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the prestigious Harvard Medical School to continue her research into sight loss conditions.

She told us: “During my PhD, I gained significant experience and independence in scientific research, which would not have been possible without the generous support of Fight for Sight. The financial aid also enabled me to present my research at several international conferences, where I was able to communicate my work to experts in the field. I am now able to take these skills forward into my new position at Harvard Medical School, where I will embark on my future research career.”

The future of eye research

The Tommy Salisbury Choroideremia Fund, set up through Fight for Sight, was pivotal in funding the early research that led to this pioneering work.

At the time, choroideremia patient Joe Pepper told us: “To grow up gradually seeing your vision deteriorate and contemplating giving up the activities you love was soul-destroying. I no longer have to prepare for going blind.”

Keith Valentine, Chief Executive at Fight for Sight, said:

“We know the future of eye research looks bright. It’s one of the most exciting fields to be in right now and we are thrilled to see new, promising talent develop their skills to push eye health up the agenda nationally and worldwide. We are also incredibly proud to see this grant funding awarded to such an important project. This is why we do what we do, to elevate research and give our brilliant scientists the tools to find out why sight loss happens and how we can beat it.”