What research is on the horizon?

Posted: Thursday 12 December 2019

As more people are being diagnosed with macular disease and the number of people living with it is expected to double by 2050, it is more crucial than ever before that we find a cure.

While research has helped us to understand far more over the past few years, there’s still so much unknown. And, ultimately there is still no cure for the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK.

We have invested in research for more than 30 years and thanks to the generous support of our members and donors we have seen some amazing breakthroughs, with advances in gene therapy and stem cell research. But, so much more must be done and we must increase the amount invested in macular disease research in the UK in order to find a cure.

The Macular Society is committed to increasing the amount of research it funds. And, for the first time this year is proud to fund £1 million of research, with some exciting projects in the pipeline, including two new PhD studentships.

So, what research is on the horizon? Here are just a few of the projects we will be funding in the coming year:

Testing an implantable eye lens for macular disease in a clinical trial

Magnifying lenses can be a very helpful visual aid for people with macular disease. Magnifying lenses that can be implanted into the eye have been developed, but haven’t been properly tested in clinical trials. As a result, we don’t know if they work for people with macular disease and they are not available on the NHS.

This project will run a clinical trial to test whether a particular implantable magnifying lens will be helpful for people with macular disease.

The Scharioth Macular Lens (SML), uses a magnifying button in the centre of an implantable lens. This produces moderate magnification. The study will also develop a contact lens version of the implant, which may be a useful alternative.

The study will recruit 25 people with macular disease through the lead researcher’s clinic in Belfast. If the trial shows a benefit, this will be good quality evidence to encourage a larger trial for use of the device on the NHS.

A new therapy for wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

Wet AMD develops when abnormal blood vessels grow into the macula. These leak blood or fluid, which leads to scarring of the macula and rapid loss of central vision. Current treatments involve regular injections into the side of the eye of drugs called ‘anti-VEGF’ to stop the abnormal growth of blood vessels.

This project is aiming to develop an alternative treatment for wet AMD. The researchers hope that this drug will stop the abnormal growth of blood vessels in a different way to current anti-VEGF treatments. This would offer a potential treatment for people for whom current anti-VEGF treatments do not work.

The researchers’ previous research has found proteins that can stop the growth of blood vessels. The researchers have identified which part of the proteins has this effect, and have made miniature versions of them to test as a treatment.

This project aims to better understand these proteins and how they might work. The researchers will also test their safety and how they might be delivered as a treatment, so

that they could move on to clinical trials.

Using artificial intelligence to better understand the development and progression of age-related macular degeneration

This project will use an artificial intelligence system to analyse eye scans and detect patterns in the progress of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

In this project, the researchers will analyse the Moorfields’ AMD database. This database is the world’s largest single-centre database of eyes with wet AMD. The artificial intelligence system has been developed in partnership with one of the world’s leading organisations for artificial intelligence research, Google’s DeepMind.

By analysing the database of scans from people with AMD, the project hopes to better understand progression from dry AMD to wet AMD, which could mean spotting the signs earlier, allowing earlier treatment of patients with wet AMD. The project will also examine how dry AMD continues to progress in people also being treated for wet AMD.

Another aim of the project is to provide an understanding of how the different treatments for wet AMD that are currently used affect the retina, including scarring that may build up over time as a result of this condition.

Importantly, the researchers will make the data from this project open and available to researchers around the world. This will support many other studies and progress research into AMD.