VISICORT consortium meets in Amsterdam

On December 5, 2019, the VISICORT consortium under the leadership of Prof Matthew Griffin at the National University of Ireland Galway met for its final plenary meeting. In Amsterdam for convenience, the partners assembled to share research updates and the progress of the cell manufacturing and clinical trial and to federate its Memorandum of Understanding to exploit VISICORT results and the consortium’s shared expertise into the future. The VISICORT Memorandum of Understanding is an agreement to establish the terms of interaction, use and responsibility of a Virtual Research Community, and to cement our willingness to work together as possibilities arise in the future.

Our meeting in Amsterdam provided an excellent opportunity to review progress in tracking the clinical outcomes of low and high risk corneal transplant recipients who have participated in the VISICORT longitudinal follow-up study over the past 4 years in Aarhus, Dublin, Berlin, Bristol and Nantes. Linked to the large amount of immune profiling data that has been generated by our laboratory research partners in Edinburgh and Nantes for these same patients with support from the VISICORT Foundation Biobank at Biostor Ireland Ltd., these clinical outcomes will now allow us to explore the immunological signals of rejection and other complications of corneal transplantation in a unique manner. The meeting also provided a forum for discussing new and future projects that will leverage the VISICORT clinical and biological resources and for reviewing progress toward cell manufacture for the VISICORT clinical trial of mesenchymal stromal cells in high risk corneal transplant recipients.

VISICORT coordinator, Prof. Matthew Griffin of the National University of Ireland’s Regenerative Medicine Institute.

The VISICORT consortium, Amsterdam, December 5, 2019

Prof Dr Uwe Pleyer, Charité presents VISICORT at IOIS 2019 meeting in Taiwan

Prof Dr Uwe Pleyer of Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin  moderated two sessions at the International Ocular Inflammation Society (IOIS) meeting 2019 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan: “Immunology of Cornea/Sclera– update in diagnosis and therapy” and the “Minimum Clinical Datasets in Uveitis – What is this and do we need it?” The meeting took place on November 13- 16, 2019.

Pictured: Prof Dr. Uwe Pleyer, Charite, third from left.


In addition, Uwe presented a talk entitled: “The role of immune-modulatory stromal cell therapy in prevention of corneal graft rejection” wherein VISICORT was presented on Saturday, November 16th. Download the IOIS meeting programme 2019 here.

The International Ocular Inflammation Society (IOIS) is an independent scientific society, interested in the study of ocular inflammatory diseases. It aims to create a comprehensive platform for ocular inflammations and infections.

New VISICORT-acknowledged publication from NUI Galway

“Human mesenchymal stromal cells broadly modulate high glucose-induced inflammatory responses of renal proximal tubular cell monolayers” authored by Md Nahidul Islam, Tomás P. Griffin, Elizabeth Sander, Stephanie Rocks, Junaid Qazi, Joana Cabral, Jasmin McCaul, Tara McMorrow and VISICORT Coordinator Prof Matthew D. Griffin at NUI Galway was published today, the 19th of November 2019. The open-access paper appears in Stem Cell Research & Therapy (2019) 10:329, DOI: 10.1186/s13287-019-1424-5 . Download the pdf here.

VISICORT coordinator Prof. Matt Griffin visits leading US medical centre Mayo Clinic to discuss EU-funded mesenchymal stromal cell projects

Prof. Matt Griffin of the National University of Ireland Galway visited the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension and the William J von Liebig Transplant Center at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota between September 27th and October 2nd 2019. While there, he engaged with clinical investigators involved in a range of Mayo Clinic research initiatives in regenerative medicine and transplantation. He gave seminars entitled “Allogeneic MSC in Corneal Re-transplantation: From Pre-clinical Evidence to Regulatory Approval” and “Modulating the course of diabetic kidney disease: Are the pieces coming together?” which focussed on the progress of the NUI Galway-coordinated VISICORT and NEPHSTROM (www.nephstrom.eu) consortia respectively. 

Commenting on the visit, Prof. Griffin, who trained and was a faculty member at Mayo Clinic between 1992 and 2008 said: “There are many shared interests and collaborative links between leading academic centres in the US such as Mayo Clinic and European Commission-funded consortia such as VISICORT and NEPHSTROM. Looking ahead to the next EU research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe, I believe that there will be exciting opportunities to further strengthen these links in the areas of regenerative medicine and cellular therapies for the long-term benefit of people with reduced quality of life due to chronic health conditions.”  

VISICORT PIs chair sessions at EVER 2019 in Nice

PIS Profs Jester Hjortdal and Uwe Pleyer present at EVER 2019 in Nice

The European Association for Vision and Eye Research (EVER) 2019 meeting was held in Nice, France on October 17th- 19th. VISICORT PIs Prof Uwe Pleyer of Charité and Prof Jesper Hjortdal of Aarhus University Hospital were in attendance and very active. VISICORT was represented and acknowledged in several sessions.

On Saturday, October 19th Prof Pleyer co-chaired a session “Cornea immunology: current understanding and window”, gave talks entitled “Immune modulation following keratoplasty – current and future aspects of opportunities” and ” Immune modulation following keratoplasty – Current and future aspects”, and co-chaired the immunology poster session. These sessions provided an up-to-date overview of the clinically relevant immune mechanisms in host defence, wound healing and response following transplantation.

Also, on October 19th, Prof Jesper Hjortdal co-chaired the session “Advances in Corneal Regenerative Therapies: Results from the EU Horizon2020 Project ARREST BLINDNESS”. ARREST BLINDNESS, one of VISICORT’s “Related Projects” was the first cornea research project funded under the EU Horizon 2020 program, with the goal of developing advanced next-generation corneal regenerative and restorative therapies, offering hope to patients where no suitable therapy exists. The project started in 2016 and runs until the end of 2019. In this symposium, the major achievements of the project will be described, with each talk representing a distinct work package within the project, targeting a specific cause of corneal blindness. The results demonstrate the concrete advancements that have been made over the past four years, to bring new advanced therapies closer to widespread clinical adoption.

The Ophthalmology world is fast-evolving and requires keen cooperation and harmonization between research, device innovations, and technical refinements. The European Association for Vision and Eye Research (EVER) aims to encourage the different aspects of research –basic, clinical and translational- concerning the eye and vision, and to promote mutual collaboration between different specialists and institutes involved in this field by means of publications, exchange of information.

VISICORT’s Dr Siobhan Gaughan, NUI Galway judges schools’ science initiative

Dr Siobhan Gaughan, NUI Galway

VISICORT’s Dr Siobhan Gaughan will be part of a panel to adjudicate a series of Irish produced science videos as part of the ReelLIFE initiative organized at NUI Galway. ReelLIFE SCIENCE challenges participants to teach the public about STEM by picking up a camera, tablet or smartphone and making an engaging and educational three-minute video. Videos can be live-action or animated, in English or Irish. Read more about the competition here.

The competition is open to participants of all ages, from primary and secondary schools, youth organisations, community groups and clubs. This year’s themes include ‘Climate Action!’, ‘How Things Work‘, ‘Science and Me‘ and ‘Science in Space‘. Closing date for 2019 entries is Friday, October 18th. Results will be announced during Science Week 2019 and the best videos will be screened for the public at the Galway Science and Technology Festival on Sunday, November 24, 2019.


I am delighted and honoured to be assisting the ReelLIFESCIENCE Team this year with judging the video entries for the competition. This is an excellent science outreach activity to be involved in and every year I am amazed at the quality and content of the wonderful science videos produced.

Dr Siobhan Gaughan, NUI Galway

Best of luck to all entrants!

VISICORT clinical trial listed on Charité’s BeCAT website

“An outstanding project within the VISICORT consortium is a Phase 1B clinical trial testing the safety and feasibility of intravenously administered allogeneic mesenchymal stromal cells (allo-MSC) as an immunotherapy for patients at high risk of keratoplasty. Following recent regulatory and ethical approval for the first clinical study on the risk therapy for cell therapy in risk keratoplasty, the inclusion of the first patients is imminent.”

VISICORT’s clinical trial is listed on the BeCAT web page. BeCAT, the Berlin Center for Advanced Therapy is Charité’s an amalgamation of cross-disciplinary project teams that develop and manufacture Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products (ATMP) for somatic cell therapeutics, gene therapeutics, and tissue engineering biotechnological tissue. Read about BeCAT and VISICORT (in German and English) here.

VISICORT publication in the Official Journal of the Transplantation Society

Congratulations to the team! VISICORT PIs and researchers spanning the consortium have recently released a new paper in the Official Journal of the Transplantation Society. The paper entitled: “High-Risk Corneal Transplantation, Recent Developments and Future Possibilities” was released 22 August 2019. Authors are W. John Armitage, PhD; Christine Goodchild, MD; Matthew D. Griffin, DMed; David J. Gunn, FRANZCO; Jesper Hjortdal, DMSc; Paul Lohan, PhD; Conor C. Murphy, PhD; Uwe Pleyer, MD; Thomas Ritter, PhD; Derek M. Tole, FRC Ophth; Bertrand Vabres, MD.

Abstract: “Human corneal transplantation (keratoplasty) is typically considered to have superior short- and long-term outcomes and lower requirement for immunosuppression compared to solid organ transplants because of the inherent immune privilege and tolerogenic mechanisms associated with the anterior segment of the eye. However, in a substantial proportion of corneal transplants, the rates of acute rejection and/or graft failure are comparable to or greater than those of the commonly transplanted solid organs. Critically, while registry data and observational studies have helped to identify factors that are associated with increased risk of corneal transplant failure, the extent to which these risk factors operate through enhancing immune-mediated rejection is less clear. In this overview, we summarize a range of important recent clinical and basic insights related to high-risk corneal transplantation, the factors associated with graft failure and the immunological basis of corneal allograft rejection. We highlight critical research areas from which continued progress is likely to drive improvements in the long-term survival of high-risk corneal transplants. These include further development and clinical testing of predictive risk scores and assays; greater use of multicenter clinical trials to optimize immunosuppressive therapy in high-risk recipients and robust clinical translation of novel, mechanistically-targeted immunomodulatory and regenerative therapies that are emerging from basic science laboratories. We also emphasize the relative lack of knowledge regarding transplant outcomes for infection-related corneal diseases that are common in the developing world and the potential for greater cross-pollination and synergy between corneal and solid organ transplant research communities.”

Find this and all of the other VISICORT publications here.

VISICORT PI Ritter, NUI Galway joins Therapeutics Delivery COST Action

Prof. Thomas Ritter of NUI Galway has joined “DARTER”- a COST Action CA 17103- Delivery of Antisense RNA Therapeutics. Here, Thomas aims to broaden his research network and to forge new partnerships to explore novel, RNA-based therapies for the treatment of ocular defects and the modulation of corneal transplant rejection.

DARTER has three research objectives- delivery strategies, model systems, safety and toxicology. In addition, there is a capacity-building group for stakeholder communications with the objective to achieve consensus on protocols and assessment of ASO delivery and toxicology and training new researchers within a cooperative research framework. The DARTER COST network includes academics, industrial partners, patient representatives and clinicians and it is open to other interested stakeholders.

COST Actions create spaces where scientists are in the driving seat (bottom-up) and ideas can grow through a flexible and open approach. By enabling researchers from academia, industry and the public and private sector to work together in open networks that transcend borders, COST helps to advance science, stimulates knowledge sharing and pools resources.

VISICORT PIs present at Societas Ophthalmologica Europæa

On June 16, 2019, Prof. Jesper Hjortdal, of the Aarhus University Hospital gave a presentation at the SOE (Societas Ophthalmologica Europæa, or European Society of Ophthalmology) on “Adverse immune signatures after corneal transplantation” based on the preliminary findings in the VISICORT study. This year the SOE held its bi-annual meeting in Nice, France. The symposium on “The Bad and Ugly Side of Corneal Grafting: How to Avoid and Manage Complications” was well attended.

VISICORT PI Prof. Conor Murphy, RCSI, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland also presented at the symposium. Conor’s presentation was titled: “Primary failure after corneal transplantation, definition and incidence”.

The SOE’s Society’s mission is to become the central point of European Ophthalmology primarily through education as well as fostering closer collaboration with Subspecialty Societies and Supranational Organisations within Europe and beyond.

International Clinical Trials Day 2019, Galway

The HRB Clinical Research Facility Galway in Ireland hosted a public event to celebrate International Clinical Trials Day on May 20th 2019. Exhibition stands were on display and informational meetings were held throughout the day to inform the public of all areas of clinical research being undertaken at the facility.

A particular stand was dedicated to the CRF Galway’s stem cell work to inform the public of the cell therapy projects being undertaken with partners within the National University of Ireland Galway and with European partners.  VISICORT was showcased here, as were the related projects NEPHSTROM and ADIPOA-2.

Great interest was expressed in this evolving therapeutic area with approximately 100 members of the public stopping by to hear about what cell therapy involves and to learn about the projects from the clinical researchers on the day.

Dr Veronica McInerney, CRF Galway
Dr Veronica McInerney, NUI Galway

Interview: Lisa Imrie, U of Edinburgh uses the VISICORT Biobank

Lisa Imrie, PhD candidate, University of Edinburgh uses VISICORT Foundation Biobank

Lisa Imrie is a Proteomics Specialist at the University of Edinburgh and a graduate of Edinburgh Napier University with a degree in microbiology and biotechnology. She has recently started her PhD studies taking a unique perspective in the analysis of biosamples from the VISICORT Foundation Biobank.

Danielle Nicholson, Pintail Limited caught up with Lisa Imrie after the latest plenary meeting in Galway to pose a few questions about her PhD research. In this interview (1 of 2), Lisa discusses her PhD project, how new techniques in the lab and with the data set analyses will carry the results of VISICORT forward and contribute to the field of proteomics.

What is the main focus of your PhD project?

To characterise different eye tissues and identify clinically relevant biomarkers in both keratoconus and Fuch’s Endothelial Corneal Dystrophy (FECD) using a multi-omics approach.

Why have you focussed on that in particular? What is it that interests you about it?

Until recently my career has been very technically orientated as I currently provide a proteomics service for a mass spectrometry core facility within the University of Edinburgh.  This has allowed me a brief snapshot of other researcher’s work however I’ve never had any biological research of my own to focus on.  In 2015 I was charged with helping the groups postdoc, Khadar Dudekula, with her proteomics profiling of eye tissue samples from the VISICORT project.  This area of research piqued my interest and from becoming more involved in the sample analysis and also attending the plenary meetings it became apparent that there was massive scope to carry this research forward in any number of directions.  Within my facility, I have a number of high-end mass spectrometers that can carry out various “omics” analyses so this PhD project seemed like a golden opportunity to utilise them to analyse the large number of samples available to me within Biostor Ireland.  There are thousands of samples within this biobank so it was sensible to narrow down my thesis question and focus on looking at a couple of conditions to start with (keratoconus and FECD).

“It is really gratifying to see how the VISICORT project has led to the development of a new and exciting approach for analysing the invaluable collection of our biological samples. We can look forward to being able to identify important new and medically important Biomarkers from Lisa’s VISICORT-inspired PhD.”

Professor Malcolm Walkinshaw, University of Edinburgh

What big questions do you want to answer?

I want to characterise keratoconus and FECD using a multi-omic approach combining proteomic, metabolomic and lipidomic analyses.  This will include developing a method for the efficient extraction of lipids, metabolites and proteins from a single sample, enabling the targeted and untargeted analyses of each eye tissue.  Extracting multiple “omes” in one step will ensure like for like comparisons and give a genuine snapshot of the biological status of the system. This will result in much better correlations between differences in metabolites/proteins and we can obtain greater insights into the metabolic pathways comparing healthy and disease states through interrogation and integration of the different omics datasets.  This method will be unique in eye tissue omics studies to date.

What are the biggest obstacles to answering these questions?

My biggest challenges in this project will be all the sample prep method development.  I’ve seen a similar one-step extraction method used before on plant material but never on the eye tissues that I’ll be working with.  All the different tissues, e.g. tears, aqueous humor, cornea, all have very different compositions so it’ll be interesting to see if the one method works with all sample types. 

Another challenge I’ll face is the data integration and interpretation.  To date, I have only ever run single omics experiments which require just one software analysis approach.  I’ll now have to find a way to integrate all the data generated from the proteomics, metabolomics and lipidomics analyses.  Fortunately, there’s a symposium towards the end of the year which deals with Multiomics data integration that I’ll be attending so hopefully this will give me some idea of the best way to deal with these large datasets.

How has VISICORT contributed to your project concept and research?

VISICORT Foundation Biobank brochure

Without VISICORT it may never have occurred to me to embark on my own PhD project.  Because the subject matter interested me so much and due to the large number of samples available in the Biostór it was an easy jump to design a project to expand on the profiling data already generated by mass spectrometry.  The challenge was distilling it down to look at a couple of biological questions as there were a large number of avenues we could have pursued.  The two plenary meetings I have presented at, the first in Berlin to pitch the idea of the PhD project and the second in Galway to present a more definite structure, have been invaluable to me.  Getting advice and suggestions from experts in the field has definitely shaped my work going forward.

New VISICORT publication from NUI Galway team

“TNF-α/IL-1β-licensed mesenchymal stromal cells promote corneal allograft survival via myeloid cell-mediated induction of Foxp3+ regulatory T cells in the lung” was published online in the FASEB Journal on May 20, 2019. The authors of the study from NUI Galway are Nick Murphy, Oliver Treacy, Kevin Lynch, Maurice Morcos, Paul Lohan, Linda Howard, Gerry Fahy, Matthew D. Griffin, Aideen E. Ryan, and Thomas Ritter.

Congratulations to the team!

FASEB J. 2019 May 20:fj201900047R. DOI: 10.1096/fj.201900047R. [Epub ahead of print]

Prof Ritter presents at ARVO 2019, Canada

VISICORT PI Prof Thomas Ritter of the NUI Galway presented at the recent Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) meeting in Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada. Thomas’ abstract, “Subconjunctival injection of low-dose mesenchymal stem cells promotes corneal allograft survival in a mouse cornea transplantation model” was presented Wednesday, May 1st during the “Corneal Neuropathy and Neovascularisation” session of the 2019 ARVO Annual Meeting which took place from April 28 – May 2, 2019.

The theme for the 2019 AVRO meeting was “From bench to bedside and back”.

PI Conor Murphy presents VISICORT at Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital

VISICORT PI Prof and Consultant Ophthalmologist Conor C. Murphy of the RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) presented “What’s new (and old) in corneal transplantation” on the 5th of April 2019. The audience included a group of 40 surgical theatre nurses at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin. The VISICORT project concept and clinical trial were presented in slides 45-49.

Conor’s presentation can be viewed here.

VISICORT presentation in Berlin aims to recruit potential patients to the clinical trial

VISICORT PI Uwe Pleyer at Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin organized a seminar entitled “Autologe Stammzelltherapie zur Prophylaxe der Immunreaktion bei Risikokeratoplastik”. The Anterior Segment Symposium on April 27th, 2019 in Berlin included a presentation on the VISICORT project with the aim to recruit potential patients for the Phase 1 trial.


Pictured above Prof. Dr Rieck and Prof. Dr Uwe Pleyer

VISICORT PI Nico Degauque, INSERM presents at Swedish Registry for Corneal Transplant

VISICORT PI Nicolas Degauque from INSERM in Nantes was an invited speaker at the annual meeting for participants in the Swedish Registry for Corneal Transplant which for many years have served as the registry for all Swedish and Danish patients undergoing corneal transplantation. The meeting took place at Riksgränsen at the very north of Sweden on April 11, 2019. Through Nico’s talk entitled “Innate-like functions of human TEMRA CD8 and their involvement in kidney allograft outcome”, he presented the recent advances in identifying biomarkers for transplant survival learned from kidney transplantations. It is the hope that the extension of these studies can provide biomarkers for corneal transplant survival.

The meeting was attended by VISICORT partners John Armitage from the University of Bristol and Jesper Hjortdal, Aarhus University Hospital.


Two VISICORT PIs involved in new COST Action

Our PI Prof Thomas Ritter of the National University of Ireland Galway attended the kick-off meeting in Brussels of the COST Action Aniridia-NET: networking to address an unmet medical, scientific, and societal challenge. Aniridia is a devastating ocular disease that requires intensive eye care, social and community support from birth and throughout an individual’s lifetime.

Although a rare disease, aniridia is associated with ocular surface pathology such as dry eye, inflammation, stem cell insufficiency, nerve degeneration, and vascularization – problems common to many ocular surface pathologies collectively affecting large populations. Greater collaboration and sharing of information and resources in the area of aniridia is therefore additionally expected to have significant benefits for the treatment of larger patient populations with ocular surface disease.

Two VISICORT PIs, Thomas Ritter and Jesper Hjortdal of Aarhus University Hospital are on the management committee of this project.

Learn more about this COST action CA 18116 here: https://bit.ly/2P6GTU3

Partners at CCMI offer training workshops

Our partners at the Centre for Cell Manufacturing Ireland (CCMI) based at the National University of Ireland Galway have organized a workshop series:  “Selection, Validation and Implementation of Rapid Microbiological Methods for ATMPs“. This event will take place in Galway, Ireland on the 12th and 13th of June 2019.

For more information, download the flyer here.

VISICORT meeting with Epimune Diagnostics


Epimune (www.epimune-dx.com) and the VISICORT Consortium are interested in entering into a collaboration in the field of diagnosis and monitoring of corneal transplant recipients using epigenetic immune cell quantification. The goal of the collaboration is the exploration of epigenetic immune cell quantification to monitor patients after corneal transplantation and to detect (and potentially predict) adverse events earlier than with currently available methods.

The face to face meeting on Tuesday 10th October 2019 with Dr Christoph Sachsenmeier from Epimune Diagnostics was an opportunity to discuss the collaboration further and to explore new collaborations within the diabetic kidney and ophthalmology research areas.

Pictured L to R: Matt Griffin, Conor Murphy, Joan Ní Gabhann, Christoph Sachsenmeier and Diana Malata at the RCSI, Dublin

Attendees included VISICORT Coordinator Prof. Matt Griffin and Dr Siobhán Gaughan from NUI Galway, VISICORT team members from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland PI Prof. Conor Murphy, Dr Joan Ní Gabhann and Diana Malata of the RCSI, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Dr Christoph Sachsenmeier, the VP Business Development at Epimune.

Epimune’s goal is to revolutionize diagnosis and monitoring of patients with disorders of the immune system.  Epimune develops in vitro diagnostic (IVD) tests using proprietary epigenetic immune cell quantification technology (Baron et al., 2018). This approach allows for broad immune cell profiling from minute sample amounts (e.g. blood – fresh/frozen/dried; other bodily fluids; tissue). Epimune uses proprietary real-time PCR-based assays for quantification of more than 20 different immune cell types.