Research Fellows Directory
Professor Alan Stitt
Queen's University of Belfast
Important sight-threatening conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, retinopathy of prematurity and central/branch vein occlusion blood vessels are marked by blood vessel degeneration. Lack of blood supply deprives the retina of the oxygen and nutrition it needs and this can lead to severe visual impairment. Current treatments only address the late stages of the disease and may have serious side effects and there is an urgent need to identify novel treatments that can prevent progression and repair retinal damage. Research conducted by Prof Stitt's team under the Royal Society - Wolfson Merit Award has made significant advances in both understanding how these vessels degenerate but also how to repair and regenerate them.
As an example of the research in the regenerative medicine field, recent evidence suggests that vascular stem cells (known as endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs)) can be isolated and injected into patients to assist blood vessel repair. Clinically, this has already been shown for oxygen-deprived (ischaemic) hearts resulting in regeneration of damaged tissue. We believe that some important retinal diseases could be treated with vascular stem cell therapy. The concept of such therapy is quite simple: isolate cells from the patient, expand cell numbers in the laboratory and then inject the patients’ own cells into sites of vascular damage. The team has assessed these key points in the context of ischaemic retinopathies. The team have made considerable progress in this area and will soon embark on a First-in-Man trial to offer a novel and efficacious therapy for ischaemic central/branch retinal vein occlusion (iCRVO/iBRVO). This cell therapy would represent a novel treatment for an important unmet clinical need and has been recognised by The Cell Therapy Catapult (CTC). This novel intervention has enormous potential because it will address an important, currently unmet clinical need.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)