Fight for Sight’s record breaking round of new PhD awards

24 April 18

written by:

Yewande Omoniyi

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The UK’s leading eye research charity, Fight for Sight, is today announcing the recipients of its annual PhD studentships. The ten awards, totalling almost £1 million, are a record for Fight for Sight.

Michele Acton, Fight for Sight’s Chief Executive, said: “This year we have awarded more PhD studentships than ever before. We are committed to addressing sight loss and these awards will enable pioneering research to be undertaken, as well as supporting the development of young eye researchers.”

The following PhD studentships have been awarded:

Protecting the optic nerve from damage
Supervisor: Professor Keith Martin, University of Cambridge

Professor Martin will work with a PhD student to develop ways to protect cells that are damaged by eye conditions such as glaucoma. Protecting the retina ganglion cells, which relay visual information to the brain via the optic nerve, may provide the ability to restore vision to those blinded by optic nerve disease.

Investigating inflammation in age-related macular degeneration
Jointly-awarded Fight for Sight / National Eye Research Centre studentship
Supervisor: Dr Mei Chen, Queen’s University Belfast (QUB)

This year’s round includes the first ever jointly funded PhD awarded as part of the annual Fight for Sight PhD grants round. The National Eye Research Centre (NERC) have teamed up with Fight for Sight to fund a PhD investigating aspects of age-related macular degeneration, the main cause of sight loss in developed countries.

Dr Mei Chen and her student will aim to understand why the loss of single immunoglobulin IL-1 related receptor (SIGIRR) leads to uncontrolled inflammation in AMD, and whether the development of AMD can be delayed or halted by enhancing SIGIRR expression through gene therapy.

Improving sight after stroke
Supervisor: Dr Ben Webb, University of Nottingham

Dr Webb has been awarded funding for a PhD student to assist with research into identifying the residual visual brain networks that survive post stroke. They will also investigate how to retrain these networks to detect visual input in the cortically visual field.

The enhanced generation of the corneal epithelium from stem cells
Supervisor: Professor Andrew Quantock, University of Cardiff

Professor Quantock will select a PhD student to help investigate the ability of human induced pluripotent stem cells to form functional corneal cells. This could lead to a treatment for patients with corneal epithelial injury or disease.

Cell-cell junctions in retinal disease
Fight for Sight / Frankenburg PhD studentship award
Supervisor: Professor Maria Balda, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology

Professor Balda was awarded the Fight for Sight / Frankenburg PhD studentship award. Together with her PhD student, Professor Balda aims to identify the molecular mechanisms by which a particular protein - the protein p114RhoGEF - leads to the malfunctioning of cell-cell junctions in retinal pigment epithelial cells and photoreceptors, and how such defects lead to the degeneration of these cells.

Strategies to prevent vascular damage in phase I retinopathy of prematurity
Supervisor: Dr Denise McDonald, Queen’s University Belfast

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a sight-threatening complication of premature birth. Premature infants are exposed to high oxygen, which damages the cells essential for the formation of blood vessels. Dr McDonald and her PhD student aim to find a therapy that will protect the blood vessels in the early phase of ROP.

Molecular mechanism of opsin transport and its relevance to photoreceptor degeneration
Supervisor: Dr Jarema Malacki, University of Sheffield

The human visual system detects light through proteins known as opsins which are found in photoreceptor cells. Opsin can accumulate in the wrong part of the cell due to defective transport. This study aims to identify proteins that bind opsin and move it into distinct compartments in the eye.

Image fusion in the analysis of ocular inflammatory disease
Supervisor: Dr Lindsay Nicholson, Bristol University

Dr Nicholson and his PhD student will analyse diseased eyes of animals at known stages of uveitis, to develop a better understanding as to how to interpret changes in tissue texture and appearance. The information gained from this research will establish methodology to be applied to human patients to provide more reliable predictions about the stage of the disease and the likely outcome.

Functional and therapeutic approaches to congenital stationary night blindness
Supervisor: Professor Graeme Black, University of Manchester

X-linked congenital stationary night blindness (CSNB) is caused by mutations in a gene called CACNA1F. Within the retina the CACNA1F gene makes a protein called Cav1.4 which sits on the cell surface and acts as a channel to allow calcium (in the form of calcium ions) into the cell. Professor Black and his PhD student aim to improve the molecular diagnoses for a number of eye conditions. They will also test variants in CACNA1F which are associated with the loss of Cav1.4 function and protein misfolding.

Therapeutic potential of new tumour suppressor in retinoblastoma
Supervisor: Professor Shin-ichi Ohnuma, University College London

The PhD student will assist Professor Shin-ichi Ohnuma with examining the effect of the secreted protein PRELP on the progression of retinoblastoma and how it influences the properties of retinoblastoma. Its aggressiveness and sensitivity to chemotherapy will also be investigated alongside novel approaches to retinoblastoma treatment.

For more information on how to apply to be a PhD student and for more details about the research project, please contact the supervisor at the respective university.

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