Investigating potential new treatments for non-infectious inflammatory eye disease

  • Grant holder: Dr Lindsay Nicholson, Senior Research Fellow, Translational Health Sciences
  • Institution: University of Bristol
  • Project: £57,970
  • Start: October 2019
  • End: September 2021

Why is this research needed?

Uveitis (eye inflammation) presents with an incidence of approximately 0.2% of the population in the UK. Non-infectious uveitis is a chronic disease and 40% of sufferers go on to develop severe visual impairment. It is a major cause of disability, accounting for 10-15% of total blindness in the developed world and overall, in the United States and Europe, it is a major cause of preventable blindness.

Non-infectious uveitis may arise spontaneously and in isolation, or it could be associated with systemic disease. In either instances, it is frequently the result of an autoimmune disease, where the immune response is directed against proteins that are expressed specifically in the eye.

Uveitis generally presents in people of working-age, although it can be diagnosed at any age. While uncomplicated anterior uveitis usually responds well to topical therapy, second line treatment of non-infectious intermediate, posterior, and panuveitis (i.e. the inflammation of all layers of the uvea of the eye) uses powerful immunosuppression through steroids or biological drugs, which may cause a range of undesirable complications.

What is the aim of the project?

Other problems include a cohort of patients within this group that respond poorly to the currently available treatment options, and a loss of treatment efficacy over time. The need for new therapeutic approaches is great. The goal is to find treatments that are long-lasting and more focused on mechanisms that drive eye specific inflammation.

To do this, the group plans to use a technology called ‘CRISPR’ which allows silencing different candidate genes. With the experimental methods that this group has already devised for analysing the early steps of disease, they believe they can quickly test these novel targets in experiments on cell lines and then in more complicated models of the disease. This offers a relatively rapid scheme for devising future therapies.

How will this research help to beat sight loss faster?

This is a hypothesis driven project, with the potential for patient benefit only in the mid- to long-term. It addresses a significant need, for more targeted therapies that can powerfully reduce local inflammation, without the cost of loss of effective immunosurveillance.

Thank you

We are immensely grateful for the generosity of the James Tudor Foundation and the H B Allen Charitable Trust in funding this important project.

Further information

Further information about uveitis can be found here.

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