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Boost for Ulster Cornea Research

8 July 2010

Leading eye research charity, Fight for Sight, has awarded over £157,000 to a research project led by the University of Ulster and the University of Dundee to develop a treatment for various forms of corneal dystrophy – a group of inherited disorders leading to constant irritation of the surface of the eye and progressive visual impairment.

The cornea is the outmost portion of the eye and protects the eye from the outside world.  It consists of five different transparent layers.

Corneal dystrophy is a group of several hereditary eye disorders where the structure of the cornea is abnormal, leading to pain, discomfort and a build-up of cloudy material that leads to loss of vision. Different forms of corneal dystrophy affect the different layers of the cornea.

There is currently no cure for corneal dystrophy other than corneal transplantation.

The new three-year research project is led at Ulster by Dr Tara Moore, of the Centre for Molecular Biosciences, and consultant ophthalmologist Professor Johnny Moore in association with Professor Irwin McLean in the Division of Molecular Medicine at Dundee.

Two of the first genes causing corneal dystrophy were reported by the McLean group in 1997.  The current project will apply recently developed gene silencing techniques to try to "switch off" the faulty gene in patients with corneal dystrophy.  This will hopefully lead to a better treatment than corneal transplantation, which is currently the only option for severely affected individuals.

“We are very grateful to Fight for Sight for funding this project and we are extremely excited to commence working on a new therapy for this important group of eye disorders,” said Dr Moore (pictured).

Dr Moore added that researchers with the University of Ulster aim to establish a corneal dystrophy patient group to help in the development of a partnership between researchers and patients in order to best determine how to meet their needs and establish clear goals for future research.

The corneal dystrophy group will be established with the help of collaborating ophthalmologist and corneal specialist Professor Johnny Moore. Patients who suspect they may have any form of corneal dystrophy are welcome to join this patient group by contacting Cathedral Eye Clinic, University of Ulster, York St., Belfast.

The grant award to the two universities is part of over £1.4 million in research funding announced by Fight for Sight. Each year the charity awards grants for original and ground-breaking research into eye disease at leading universities and hospitals across the UK.

Note for Editors:

Fight for Sight

Fight for Sight is the UK’s leading charity dedicated to funding world-class research into the prevention and treatment of blindness and eye disease.

Since 1965, the charity has funded research at leading universities and hospitals throughout the UK. Our major achievements in this time include:

·       saving the sight of thousands of  premature babies through understanding and controlling levels of oxygen delivery;

·       restoring sight by establishing the UK Corneal Transplant Service enabling over 48,000 corneal transplants to take place;

·       revolutionising the treatment for children with amblyopia (lazy eye);

·       bringing hope to children with inherited eye disease by helping fund the team responsible for the world’s first gene therapy clinical trial; and

·       providing £1million for the research unit at the dedicated children’s eye centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital.

The Fight for Sight  research programme is focusing on preventing and treating age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and cataract.  It also fudns research into the causes of childhood blindness and a large number of rare eye diseases.