Developing a new model to study drusen formation

Research details

  • Type of funding: Fight for Sight Small Grant Award
  • Grant Holder: Dr James Whiteford
  • Institute: Queen Mary University London
  • Region: London
  • Start date: January 2023
  • End Date: December 2023
  • 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 found 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

Drusen are yellow particles made up of fats and proteins that can appear under the retina. As people get older, the number of these particles can increase – and the presence of increased drusen has been associated with the early stages of AMD.

But there is still a lot to learn about the biological processes that underlie the production of drusen – and why some individuals produce more than others. A major challenge has been a lack of experimental models to study these particles and develop treatments that can block their formation.

Aim of the research project

To generate a new experimental model to study drusen formation – and identify two potential therapeutic candidates that can block the production of these particles.

Key procedures/objectives
  1. Grow cells from the eye (from the layer of tissue just under the retina) in such a way that they form spheroids – balls of cells that more resemble how they would grow in the eye – and refine and characterise this new model of drusen production.
  2. Investigate whether two therapeutic candidates developed by the team can block drusen formation in this model.
  3. Explore the biology of how these treatments are blocking drusen production.  
Potential impact on people with sight loss

This research could ultimately lead to the development of new therapies that can effectively block drusen production, potentially halting the further progression of AMD. If this approach can successfully slow down or stop sight loss, this could dramatically improve the quality of life for patients.