Understanding how nerves in the cornea affect its health and function


Research category: corneal


The background:

The cornea is the clear front of the eye.  It accounts for most of the eye’s refractive power – the ability to focus light - and lacks blood vessels so to be transparent and thereby achieve optimal vision. It is densely packed with nerves which protect the eye by inducing the blinking reflex and tearing. 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 (neoangiogenesis), which impairs vision, and also trigger corneal nerve degeneration, which subsequently decreases the amount of released growth factors that are required for corneal health, setting in motion a vicious circle of chronic corneal surface layer defects that can ultimately lead to blindness.

The project:

Drugs that are used to treat other disease that effect the nerves in the back of the eye such as age related macular degeneration (AMD) do not generally help repair the nerves in the cornea and in fact can be damaging.  This study is therefore 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 cornea formation, healthy maintenance and recovery after injury.  Even though we now know much about the role of different types of VEGF-A (splicing isoforms) in the brain and retina, we still lack knowledge of how these proteins regulate corneal development, disease and regeneration.

The future:

This project will provide key insights into the role of the VEGF-A splicing isoforms in corneal neo-angiogenesis 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 the work has the aim to aid the identification of new therapeutic options to restore corneal health

Research details

Full Title

Targeting VEGF-A splice isoforms to modulate corneal innervation and vascularisation

Grant holder

Dr Franziska Bucker

Research Area(s)

Corneal/ocular surface disease

Start date

January 2018

Award level


Funding scheme

Springboard Award


Date: 23 August 2018

Grant reference: R180014A