VISICORT Foundation Biobank is available for use

The VISICORT Foundation Biobank (VFB) of tears, peripheral blood mononuclear cells, plasma, aqueous humour and donor and recipient corneal tissue samples is available to academic researchers, applied research institutes and pharmaceutical research centres for eye disease research purposes. For more information and to make enquiries, please see our brochure.


Peadar MacGabhann of Biostór will present VISICORT at Biobanking 2019

VISICORT’s concept, mission and progress will be presented by Peadar MacGabhann, Managing Director of Biostór at the Biobanking 2019 meeting in Porto. The two-day meeting runs for the 14th and 15th of February 2019 and is part of the Biotech Pharma Summit conference series. The event will bring together the world’s leading experts in biorepositories, policymakers, and scientific actors to strengthen knowledge in biobanking as well as explore future advances in the field of biosampling for precision medicine, drug development and health research.

Read about Biostór Ireland’s role within VISICORT here.

More information about the Biobanking 2019 meeting can be found here.

VISICORT celebrates International Clinical Trials Day with the HRB-TMRN

EU funded projects VISICORT, ADIPOA-2AUTOSTEM and NEPHSTROM coordinated by the Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) at National University of Ireland, Galway exhibited at a unique outreach activity targeted at primary school students. The event called the START competition was the brainchild of the Health Research Board (Ireland)’s Trials Methodology Research Network (HRB-TMRN) in Galway. In celebration of International Clinical Trials Day and to draw attention to clinical research conducted in Ireland, young people were invited to design, conduct and report on a randomized clinical trial. On May 18, 2018, three of the short-listed schools assembled at the University in Galway to visit interactive exhibitions, talk with researchers, perform mini-experiments, take part in lively science demonstrations and collect their prizes. The winning school was St. Joseph’s National School from Kinvara, County Galway.

Special thanks to Dr Siobhan Gaughan who organized the stand, Georgina Shaw who prepared the stem cell plates and to NUI Galway volunteers Dr Tina Harte, Dr Cathal Ó Flatharta, Dr. Nahidul Islam, Hannah Egan, Niamh Leonard, Dr. Emily Growney Kalaf, Claire Dooley and Dulan Hasantha Jayasooriya who volunteered their time to work with the young people on behalf of the EU funded project, STEM promotion.  The STEMinator cards used at the exhibition were designed by Cúram, NUI Galway. Also thank you to Lauren, Alibhe and Charlotte for creating the stem cell models.

Read more about the START competition here.

VISICORT study published in Stem Cells

A VISICORT study was published recently in Stem Cells. The body of research entitled “Inter‐Species Incompatibilities Limit the Immunomodulatory Effect of Human Mesenchymal Stromal Cells in the Rat” by Paul Lohan, Oliver Treacy, Maurice Morcos, Ellen Donohoe, Yvonne O’Donoghue, Aideen E Ryan, Stephen J Elliman, Thomas Ritter and Matthew D Griffin was accepted for publication on 13 April 2018.


Mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSC) are an immunomodulatory cell population which are under pre‐clinical and clinical investigation for a number of inflammatory conditions including transplantation. In this study, a well‐established rat corneal transplantation model was used to test the ability of human MSC to prolong corneal allograft rejection‐free survival using a pre‐transplant intravenous infusion protocol previously shown to be efficacious with allogeneic rat MSC. Surprisingly, pre‐transplant administration of human MSC had no effect on corneal allograft survival. In vitro, human MSC failed to produce nitric oxide and upregulate IDO and, as a consequence, could not suppress rat T‐cell proliferation. Furthermore, human MSC were not activated by rat pro‐inflammatory cytokines. Thus, interspecies incompatibility in cytokine signalling leading to failure of MSC licensing may explain the lack of in vivo efficacy of human MSC in a rat tissue allotransplant model. Inter‐species incompatibilities should be taken into consideration when interpreting pre‐clinical data efficacy data in the context of translation to clinical trial.

Prof Pleyer, Charité presents VISICORT at DOG 2017 conference, Berlin

The 115th Deutsche Ophthalmologishe Gesellschaft (DOG) conference was held in Berlin from 28 September – 1 October 2017. Here, Prof Uwe Pleyer of Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin co-chaired the ‘Germany goes to Europe: European Research Consortia with German participation’ session. VISICORT was presented by Prof Pleyer during this session which highlighted five projects funded by the European Commission.









VISICORT Coordinator Appointed to Head of Discipline of Medicine at NUI Galway

Matt Griffin has been Professor of Transplant Biology in NUI Galway’s School of Medicine and a Consultant Nephrologist at Galway University Hospitals since July 2008. He qualified in Medicine from University College Cork in 1988 and trained in General Medicine and Nephrology in Cork, Dublin and Mayo Clinic Rochester, USA between 1989 and 1997. He pursued a research fellowship in basic immunology at The University of Chicago before returning to join of the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension and the William J von Liebig Transplant Center at Mayo Clinic in 1999 where he was a Consultant Nephrologist specialising in Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation and Associate Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine before returning to Ireland.

His research programme has been funded by the NIH, SFI, HRB and the European Commission and is affiliated with the Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) and CÚRAM Centre for Research in Medical Devices. His interests include basic and transplant immunology, clinical transplantation and immunosuppression, the pathophysiology of renal injury, diabetic kidney disease and stem cell and therapies. He has authored over 130 peer-reviewed manuscripts.

His educational and professional roles have included Director of Education for the Mayo Clinic Transplant Center, standing member of two NIH study sections, Deputy Editor and Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, Chair of the NUI Galway Animal Care Research Ethics Committee and Academic Lead for Final Medical Year Renal/Urology teaching modules. He has been a primary supervisor to over 50 postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers, many of whom are now academic clinicians and scientists.

NUI Galway Head of School of Medicine, Carmel Malone, MD officially welcomed Matt to the new role on 23 August 2017.

Pranali Sanghvi presents her VISICORT-guided research project

Pranali Sanghvi, a student at the Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) at NUI Galway presented her work entitled, ‘Investigating the effects of different MSC therapies on immune cell infiltrates in allogeneic corneal transplants’ at the Regenerative Medicine Research Symposium held in the Biosciences Building at NUI Galway on 18 August 2017. Pranali’s project was supervised by VISICORT PI Prof Thomas Ritter, Dr Paul Lohan and NUI Galway PhD student Nick Murphy. This summer research project was part of the MSc. Regenerative Medicine, a 12-month taught course coordinated by Dr Linda Howard.


Dr Paul Lohan remarked: “Pranali worked for three months this summer to profile the localised immune response in pre-clinical transplant recipients treated with immunomodulatory stromal stem cells (iSSC). Pranali’s work in the lab contributed to the progress of the VISICORT project and she was a valuable addition to the research team”.


VISICORT Coordinator Prof. Griffin commented: “It has been a pleasure to have Pranali as part of our VISICORT team for the last 3 months. The Regenerative Medicine Masters programme at NUI Galway brings another dimension to our basic and translational research efforts at REMEDI. Each year we are fortunate to have outstanding students with diverse undergraduate backgrounds in science, medicine and engineering gain their first extensive research experiences with mentoring from REMEDI PhD students and post-doctoral researchers. For multi-disciplinary projects such as VISICORT, the participation of skilled and highly motivated Master’s students such as Pranali allows us to extend the overall scope of laboratory research related to key questions such as MSC mechanism of action.


Dr Howard thanked Prof Ritter and his research group for hosting and training Pranali during this project. The experience of working in an active research environment is invaluable for early stage researchers as they make decisions about their future career goals. Training the next generation of scientists is a important role for researchers and one that VISICORT scientists have clearly taken to heart. For more information on the course, click here.

Pranali Sanghvi VISICORT

VISICORT is presented at the START competition in May 2017, Galway

Does it help your fitness to have an event as a goal when you are training? Can cartoons and comics help children to achieve better results in tests? How would you even find out?

Dr Siobhán Gaughan, NUI Galway Programmme Manager of ADIPOA-2, VISICORT and AUTOSTEM was on hand at the awards ceremony for a schools’ competition called “START” whose aim was to encourage school students to come up with interesting questions and to design and run trials to answer them in a scientific way.

“It is one of the only initiatives out there that is teaching children about randomised trials,” says Dr Sandra Galvin, who co-ordinates the Health Research Board Trials Methodology Research Network, which runs the START initiative. “We need more people to participate in trials to improve healthcare, so there is that big important picture here, and it comes down to kids having fun and they take the message home.” For more information about taking part, see

Siobhán created and managed a presentation area for the three projects, spoke to the school groups and visitors who were interested in the planned clinical trials for ADIPOA-2 and VISICORT taking place at NUI Galway’s Clinical Research Facility. A sister project, AUTOSTEM was also represented. This project is looking ahead of the clinical trials in order to meet the needs of the clinics in the future by developing automated cell factories to produce the vast quantities of cells which will be required should the clinical trials prove successful.


VISICORT researchers present their work at ARVO

Dr Lohan with his poster at ARVO

Dr. Paul Lohan and Prof. Thomas Ritter from NUIGalway and Visicort partner Prof. Conor Murphy from RCSI in Dublin presented several posters at the ARVO 2017 Annual Meeting in Baltimore from May 7th to May 11th. More than 10,000 delegates around the world participated in the meeting which is the most important meeting on eye research showing latest research in eye research. Dr. Lohan’s poster on the establishment of a “high-risk” corneal transplant model in the rat and his work on modulating allograft rejection using mesenchymal stem cells was well received and many leaders in the field of ocular immunology visited the poster and asked interesting questions. Overall the meeting was a great success!

Prof. Ritter at ARVO

VISICORT Three-year Plenary Meeting held in Edinburgh

The VISICORT consortium partners met in Edinburgh, UK on Thursday, April 27th and Friday, April 28th to review progress towards the project’s major goals following three years of collaborative research. The meeting was jointly hosted at Nine, Edinburgh BioQuarter by VISICORT partners Fios Genomics Ltd. and University of Edinburgh’s SynthSys Laboratory and was attended by 25 team members from 10 partner sites.

Nine, Edinburgh BioQuarter

The group was also joined by Scientific Advisory Group member, Prof. John Forrester who is Cockburn Professor of Ophthalmology University of Aberdeen and is an internationally recognised leader in immune-mediated eye disease and corneal transplantation.

The meeting focused on the consortium’s progress and future plans in its two main research activities:


Biological profiling of immune complications in corneal transplantation

Over the past three years VISICORT has successfully developed a multi-site clinical research network involving five centres of excellence for corneal transplantation (Aarhus, Berlin, Bristol, Dublin and Nantes); a central logistics and sample collection facility (Biostór Ireland, Ltd.) and specialised profiling technology / bioinformatics laboratories (Edinburgh and Nantes). To date, this network has enrolled almost 1000 corneal transplant recipients and control patients into three separate observational studies which uniquely link their biological profiles with current and future transplant outcomes.

During the first year of the project, a specially-designed secure database – VISICORT Information Management System (VIMS) – was developed by team members at Biostór Ireland Ltd. and Aarhus University Hospital in collaboration with Belfast-based company PathXL (now part of Philips Digital Pathology Solutions). VIMS has uniquely facilitated the flow of samples and linked clinical information across project sites while ensuring the highest level of data protection for study participants. This has allowed us to reach an exciting milestone in the project at which gene expression, protein abundance and blood immune cell profiles have been generated for a large number of European corneal transplant recipients and are now being linked to complications such as acute and chronic rejection.

Over the next year, much of this profiling information will be analysed in detail to reveal new details about the immunological processes that drive transplant rejection and to identify new approaches to testing for rejection risk. We will also continue to longitudinally follow over 300 recently transplanted recipients to learn more about the individual factors that contribute to the development of complications.

Development of an early-phase clinical trial of stromal stem cells in high risk corneal transplantation

One of the greatest remaining challenges to successful corneal transplantation is the safe prevention of rejection and transplant failure in those whose cornea is already inflamed or who have previously rejected a transplant. Under these “high immunological risk” conditions, rejection commonly occurs and extended use of strong immune suppressive medications is frequently necessary.

Laboratory research carried out over the past 3 years by VISICORT researchers at the National University of Ireland, Galway and Orbsen Therapeutics Ltd. has now shown that stromal stem cells (often called mesenchymal stem cells or MSCs) from an unrelated donor given intravenously in the week before a high-risk corneal transplant greatly reduce the frequency of rejection by modulating the anti-donor immune response. We are now excited to have begun the process of testing the safety and feasibility of this new treatment approach in an early-phase clinical trial involving patients who will be receiving a second or greater corneal transplant at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin.

Development of the clinical trial protocol and procedures will be a major part of the VISICORT research agenda for the next 6 months. This will bring together expertise in therapeutic stromal cell manufacture at NUI Galway’s Centre for Cell Manufacture Ireland (CCMI); in early-phase clinical trial and regulatory affairs at Charité University Hospital and in clinical high-risk corneal transplantation at Charité, Aarhus University Hospital, Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, University of Bristol and Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Nantes.

Reflecting on the meeting, VISICORT coordinator, Prof. Matt Griffin of NUI Galway’s Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) commented: “It has been an exciting journey to reach the point at which we are now in a position to drive toward the major goals of the project that was conceived over three years ago. Our greatest resources have been the diverse expertise and, especially, the energy and collaborative spirit among the research teams that we have built at each partner site. I am greatly looking forward to keeping our momentum going in the same fashion over the next year so that we can deliver strongly on the promise of this project.”