a green eye, surrounded by long, curled eyelashes

Failing to keep the back of the eye clean and clear can lead to sight loss. We’re funding research searching for a new way to treat patients who get a build up of debris at the back of the eye.

The challenge

Photoreceptors are the cells at the back of the eye that sense light and mediate vision. The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) supports the functions and survival of photoreceptors. 

When this RPE stops working properly it leads to major clinical (vision) problems. This is because these cells have functions that are essential for vision and are affected by inherited diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa, as well as age-related conditions.

Photoreceptors develop a specialised domain that harvests and constantly renews light. This renewal process involves the shedding of old material, which is then internalised by the RPE to clear it away from the retina. This internalisation process is called phagocytosis. 

If the RPE is defective, this debris accumulates and the retina degenerates. In cells from patients suffering from some forms of inherited blindness, this ability to clear away the debris can stop working. 

Age-related loss of vision can also be aggravated by impaired phagocytosis. 

Finding a solution

Phagocytosis requires a molecular motor that drives the internalisation of debris. 

Professor Matter and his team have discovered the mechanism that switches on this motor. In this pilot study, the team will focus on the development of therapeutic approaches by targeting this newly discovered regulatory mechanism to rescue phagocytosis in disease.

The potential

In the short term, the identification of targets and therapeutic strategies to rescue phagocytosis will have an impact on academic and clinical beneficiaries. In the long term, beneficiaries will be patients as they will profit from more effective treatments. 

As a consequence, this will positively influence the NHS and the society as a whole.

Project Details

Funding scheme

Research project grant

Grant holder

Professor Karl Matter

Research area(s)

Age-related macular degeneration | Genetics | Inherited eye disorders

Start date

August 2017

Amount awarded

£40,569

Grant reference

GR000331