Can stem cells repair the retina’s blood supply in dry AMD?

Research details

  • Type of funding: PhD Studentship
  • Grant Holder: Professor Alan Stitt
  • Institute: Queen’s University Belfast
  • Region: Northern Ireland
  • Start date: October 2016
  • End Date: September 2019
  • Priority: Treatment
  • Eye Category: AMD


The ‘dry’ form of AMD has many effects on the eye, including losing the blood vessels (called choroidal capillaries) that supply the light-sensitive part of the eye (the retina) with the oxygen and nutrition they need to work normally. This can lead to follow-on degeneration in the retina and severe sight loss.

Recent evidence has shown that blood vessel (vascular) stem cells can be injected into patients to help blood vessels repair. It has already been shown to work in repairing damaged heart tissue after it has been starved of oxygen.

So in this project the team is using a range of methods to test how well a specific type of vascular stem cell can repair damaged blood vessels from the back of the eye. The results will provide the basic evidence that’s needed before this potential new treatment could move towards the clinic.
  • Scientific summary

    Potential of endothelial progenitors to reverse choroidal atrophy during age-related macular degeneration

    Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a major cause of cause of blindness and its incidence will double by the year 2050. Approximately 90% of patients with AMD have a form of the disease called geographic atrophy (GA-AMD) for which there is no effective treatment. During GA-AMD there is progressive loss of photoreceptors and retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) from the macular region of the retina and this occurs alongside degeneration of an underlying vascular bed called the choriocapillaris. This project will establish a new paradigm for choriocapillaris regeneration using a stem cell therapy in order to prevent vision loss.

    For tissue regeneration to succeed, the seeds (therapeutic cells) and soil (tissue microenvironment) need to be optimal and both aspects are being addressed in this studentship. The supervisory team is building on their experience and proven expertise in retinal molecular pathology, vascular stem cells and the biology of age-related protein modification to develop a completely novel cell therapy approach to GA-AMD.