a deconstructed model of brain anatomy lying on a grey surface

The cornea is the clear front of the eye. It allows us to see by letting in and focusing light. We’re funding research into VEGF-A, a protein that could help promote healthy maintenance of the cornea and recovery after injury.

The chalenge

The cornea accounts for most of the eye’s refractive power (the ability to focus light). It can do this because it lacks blood vessels so that it is transparent, thereby achieving optimal vision. 

Further, it is densely packed with nerves which protect the eye by inducing the blinking and tearing reflexes. These nerves are also important in their role in the release of factors that maintain a healthy corneal surface layer and promote corneal healing after injury. 

Numerous diseases induce the ingrowth of pathological corneal blood vessels (neo-angiogenesis), which impairs vision. These diseases also trigger corneal nerve degeneration, which subsequently decreases the amount of released growth factors that are required for corneal health. 

Together this sets in motion a vicious circle of chronic corneal surface layer defects that can ultimately lead to blindness.

Finding a solution

This study is looking at how vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-A, a protein which both stimulates blood vessel growth and affects nerves is involved in the formation of the cornea, its healthy maintenance and recovery after injury. 

Even though we have an good understanding of different types of VEGF-A in the brain and retina, we still lack knowledge of how these proteins regulate corneal development, disease and regeneration.

The potential

This project will provide key insights into the role of the VEGF-A in the cornea and nerve regeneration. 

In particular, it will determine whether we can identify variants of VEGF-A which can promote nerve growth and regeneration without inducing pathological neo-angiogenesis. 

Therefore, this work aims to aid the identification of new therapeutic options to restore corneal health.

Project Details

Funding scheme

Springboard Award

Grant holder

Dr Franziska Bucher

Research area(s)

Corneal disease | Ocular surface disease

Start date

January 2018

Amount awarded

£21,000

Grant reference

GR000032