Making a macular patch from 3D retinal organoids

Research details

  • Type of funding: Project Grant
  • Grant Holder: Professor Rachael Pearson
  • Institute: King's College London
  • Region: London
  • Start date: September 2021
  • End Date: September 2024
  • Priority: Treatment
  • Eye Category: AMD
Brief Lay background

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), causes loss of central vision because of damage to the macula – a tiny collection of light-sensitive cells within the retina at the back of the eye.

AMD is the most common cause of permanent and severe sight loss in the UK, affecting around 600,000 people – this number is expected to more than double by 2050.

What problem/knowledge gap does it help address

The retina contains millions of photoreceptors, which are vital for healthy eyesight. In people with AMD, the photoreceptors within the macula stop working and eventually die. As a result, they can no longer detect light and send visual information to the brain – leading to a loss of central vision that gets progressively worse over time.

Damage to the macula can’t be reversed. Current treatments for AMD can only slow down sight loss rather than restore vision.  

Aim of the project

The researchers aim to generate working ‘macular patches’ from human stem cells (a special type of cell that can develop into many other types of cells), which could then be used:

  • as a source of healthy photoreceptors for transplantation into the retina to help repair damage to the macula.
  • for laboratory experiments to improve understanding of human retinal development – specifically the macula – and what goes wrong in disease.
Key procedures/objectives
  1. Establish the activity patterns of key molecules that play a critical role in the developing human retina.
  2. Map the organisation of photoreceptors within 3D ‘mini retinas’ generated from human stem cells over time.
  3. Compare the activity patterns of key molecules in ‘mini retinas’ with those established in Aim 1.
  4. Identify the best way to encourage the formation of healthy ‘macular patches’ in the laboratory.
  5. Establish how well the photoreceptors within these ‘macular patches’ work.
Potential impact on people with sight loss

This research could ultimately lead to an effective new treatment that can help slow down, stop or reverse sight loss for people with AMD. If successful, this approach could dramatically improve their quality of life – and it could also help pave the way for cutting-edge stem cell therapies for other retinal degenerative disorders.