Finding out what role two important parts of the immune system play in AMD

Research details

  • Type of funding: Project Grant
  • Grant Holder: Dr Heping Xu
  • Institute: Queen's University Belfast
  • Region: Northern Ireland
  • Start date: November 2011
  • End Date: March 2015
  • Priority:
  • Eye Category:


Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a condition in which the central part of the retina (the macula) degenerates with age. AMD is the leading cause of blindness in older people, accounting for almost 1 in 2 people registered blind in the UK from this age group. Current treatments are unsatisfactory and new effective therapies are urgently needed.

Old age, environmental factors and genetics all contribute to AMD. Environmental risk factors damage the macula, and this gets worse with age. The body’s immune system can normally protect and heal tissue, which maintains health. But this defence may break-down under certain conditions. The team thinks that AMD is caused by an imbalance between the amount of damage to the macula caused by environmental factors such as old age on the one hand, and the ability of the immune system to do repairs on the other. In this project the team investigated how the immune system deals with retinal damage caused by light, the most common environmental risk factor for AMD, in normal healthy mice and in two types of mice with specific genes that make them more likely to get AMD.

The team studied two components of the immune system that might not work properly in people with AMD patients. The aim was to discover specific chains of events (molecular pathways) in the immune system that are responsible for damage to the retina in AMD, in response to light. This is information for developing safe and effective immune therapy.