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Research funding gives hope for sight loss breakthrough


A research team made up of scientists from a trio of European universities and led by a Northumbria University academic, has received funding to research age-related macular degeneration.

a young female scientist conducting research (Image Credit: AdobeStock/Stock Rocket)

The funding of £100,000 (approximately $124,000 USD) will support the study into the causes of AMD at a cellular level. (Image Credit: AdobeStock/Stock Rocket)

A team of scientists from 3 European universities will receive funding that may fund ground-breaking techniques to study age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

According to a news release from Northumbria University, the research, led by Gerrit Hilgen, PhD, assistant professor in Northumbria’s Department of Applied Sciences, could lead to new treatments for AMD and could also help develop improved methods to diagnose and prevent the condition.

Macula cells can deteriorate for a number of reasons, the most common being aging, but smoking, poor diet, high blood pressure and genetic history can all play a part too.

The researchers noted the risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration increases from 2% for those aged 50-59, to nearly 30% for those over the age of 75. In 2020, the condition was believed to affect more than 190 million people globally and this figure is expected to rise to 288 million people by 2040 as the elderly population increases.

The symptoms of AMD include blurred vision, difficulty seeing in low light, and seeing straight lines as wavy. The condition can develop slowly over several years or can develop very quickly. To date, there is no cure.

According to the news release, the funding of £100,000 (approximately $124,000 USD) will support the study into the causes of AMD at a cellular level. The research team will examine human induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) AMD models. PSCs are lab-created cells that can be used to generate any type of human cell required for therapeutic purposes.

In addition, cells can be created at different stages of development. This allows researchers to study the development of diseases and the effects of treatment at different stages.

“Our project is at the forefront of discovery and translational science,” Hilgen said in the news release. “It uses innovative techniques of human iPSC models of AMD disease and a cutting-edge multidimensional approach.”

“This award will help us study the different types of cell membrane channels which are selectively permeable to certain ions in human iPSC models of AMD, and how they work together. This will help us better understand AMD as well as find new ways to treat the disease.”

Hilgen’s team includes colleagues from Northumbria University, and researchers from Newcastle University, and the University of Tuebingen in Germany.

The Academy of Medical Sciences’ Springboard scheme offers a bespoke package of support to biomedical researchers at the start of their first independent post to help launch their research careers.

Dianne Ford, PhD, pro vice-chancellor of the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at Northumbria University, pointed out these awards are highly competitive and prestigious.

“The fact that Gerrit has secured this award is testament to the excellence of his research and clear future promise to become a leader in his field, as well as to the quality of the environment we offer at Northumbria for developing researchers,” she said in the news release. “As Northumbria University’s Springboard Champion, I look forward to supporting the progress of Gerrit’s research, as well as that of our other talented researchers applying in the next and future rounds.”

Suzanne Candy, PhD, director of Biomedical Grants & Policy at the Academy of Medical Sciences, noted in the news release that funding makes it possible to support the work of researchers.

“Our strategic ambition is to help create an open and progressive research sector,” she said in the university’s news release. “By investing in these individuals and teams, we are broadening the range of people and disciplines engaged in biomedical and health research, across all regions of the UK, and globally. We look forward to supporting our award recipients and seeing how their research has a positive impact on the health of people everywhere.”

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