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 will present at EU-MSC2 meeting in Leiden in September

Hosted by Leiden University Medical Center, the EU MSC2 2017 meeting in Leiden, NL on September 12th and 13th will assemble twelve EU-funded, mesenchymal stromal cell-focussed consortia. Projects to be presented include: REDDSTARREACHRETHRIM, Stellar, MERLINNephstromSCIENCEVISICORT and Adipoa-2AUTOSTEMBOOSTB4, SEPCELL, RESSTORE, and RESPINE. This two day, interactive meeting will be held at the Stadsgehoorzaal Leiden. Three overarching aspects of the EU-MSC2 meeting include: mechanisms of action and potency assays; an interactive panel discussion on product development, and product development and market authorisation in a changing regulatory landscape.

The objectives of the meeting are to:

  • Enhance knowledge-sharing between EU research groups working in the mesenchymal stromal cell biology domain
  • Engage with European Commission Project Officers and other stakeholders from International Society of Cellular Therapy, stem cell ethicists and the European Medicines Agency (EMA)
  • Assemble trans-disciplinary research groups working across the global health spectrum but with a common focus of mesenchymal stromal cell biology
  • Bring up-and-coming researchers together for networking purposes, and to explore future consortium building and international funding application opportunities

Expected impacts and outcomes:

  • Provide opportunities to develop new mesenchymal stromal cell networks
  • Disseminate the findings and challenges between MSC-focussed consortia
  • Improve the communication potential of research, outcomes and the value of the research
  • Explore potential for new commercial technologies
  • Collectively enhance the quality and impact of planned clinical trials

These EU-funded projects are:

  • Improving the quality of life for European citizens
  • Progressing the clinical translation of MSC research and developments

For more information, please visit EU MSC2 2017.
Register via Eventbrite by August 14 2017.
Read the EU-MSC2 2015 meeting report here.

VISICORT at the 7th International Biobanking Summit

Biostór Ireland’s Peadar Mac Gabhann presented the VISICORT Biorepository at the 7th International Biobanking Summit in London on Thursday, June 15, 2017.

Paul Lohan presents on MSC cell therapy in high risk cornea transplantation

VISICORT researcher Dr Paul Lohan presented his work on MSC cell therapy in high risk cornea transplantation at the Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) seminar which took place in the Biomedical Sciences Building NUI Galway on Thursday 8th June. The seminar was attended by research scientists and principal investigators.

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.”

Clinical Trial Planning

VISICORT team members Prof. Matthew Griffin, Prof. Thomas Ritter and Dr. Siobhan Gaughan visited Prof. Uwe Pleyer at Charité in Berlin on Friday 17th February 2017.

A successful and informative meeting with the team from CRO Charité Research Organisation was held to progress the Clinical Trial work package.

The VISICORT team meets in Nantes


The VISICORT team met in Nantes on Thursday 20 and Friday 21 of October, hosted by the INSERM team. The consortium enjoyed a very productive meeting. The team were particularly pleased to welcome two members of the VISICORT scientific advisory board – Prof. Miguel Soares of University of Lisbon and Principal Investigator at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia, Oeiras, Portugal and  Ms. Rita Lawlor, founder and the project manager of the ARC-NET cancer research centre at the University of Verona, Italy.

The team reported the progress being made in each of the project’s workpackages and made plans for the next phase of the project.

There was also a little time to put a convenient foosball table to good use!


VISICORT discussed at A FACTT meeting

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-19-33-02VISICORT was one of a number of projects discussed at the A FACTT meeting in Galway this week. A FACTT is an Action to Focus and Accelerate Cell-based Tolerance-Inducing Therapies, funded through the COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) Programme. The meeting is being hosted by NUIG and runs from 5-7 October.

VISICORT Partners Present at 7th EU Cornea Congress in Copenhagen

VISICORT was strongly represented at the 7th annual congress of EU Cornea – the European Society of Cornea and Ocular Surface Disease Specialists – which was held at the Bella Center in Copenhagen between September 9th and 10th 2016.


In a focus session on “Immunology in Corneal Transplantation”, members of the VISICORT consortium gave individual presentations to congress attendees on key issues related to the project’s goal of increasing understanding of adverse immune responses to corneal allografts.

Prof. Matthew Griffin (NUI Galway, VISICORT Coordinator) presented a Keynote Lecture entitled “What has been learned from immunological profiling in kidney transplantation? “ in which he summarised developments that have occurred over the past 10-15 years in whole-genome microarray and peripheral blood immune cell profiling in the field of kidney transplantation. Emphasising the progress of these discovery-based profiling technologies towards novel diagnostic and prognostic assays for kidney transplant rejection and tolerance, he reflected upon the potential benefits of similar immunological profiling projects to future management of corneal allograft recipients at risk for rejection or chronic graft dysfunction.


Prof. Uwe Pleyer (Charité University Hospital, Berlin), in a presentation entitled “The role of immune-modulatory stromal cell therapy in prevention of corneal graft rejection”, described the emergence of mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) as an immunomodulatory therapy of potential value in preventing allograft rejection. He reviewed experimental evidence from animal model studies performed in the laboratory of Prof. Thomas Ritter (NUI Galway) and others that MSCs from unrelated (“third party”) individuals, delivered intravenously around the time of corneal transplantation module the anti-donor immune response to favour graft acceptance. He then presented the current progress of the VISICORT consortium toward a Phase 1 clinical trial at Charité University Hospital of third party MSCs in human corneal allograft recipients at high risk for rejection.


Mr. Derek Tole (University of Bristol and Bristol Eye Hospital, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, UK) addressed “Immunosuppression in high-risk keratoplasty” with an emphasis on the outcomes and potential adverse effects associated with the use of the potent anti-rejection drugs tacrolimus and mycophenole mofetil in corneal transplant recipients with one or more risk factors for rejection. With reference to 5-year follow-up results from the Bristol Eye Hospital, he demonstrated the value of a dedicated immunosuppression clinic for maximising the long-term safety and efficacy of these agents in keratoplasty recipients.

Prof. John Armitage (University of Bristol and Bristol Eye Bank) summarised the recent results for one of the largest studies of the influence of tissue type (HLA) matching on corneal transplant outcomes in a presentation entitled “Conclusions of high-risk HLA matching study-CTFS II”. In a large cohort of allograft recipients from the UK, this study concluded that there was no clear overall benefit associated with higher degree of HLA matching. Interestingly, a sub-analysis of data for high-risk recipients compared with an historical control cohort suggested a possible benefit for matching at Class I HLA loci. However, as Prof. Armitage pointed out, further prospective research will be needed to determine whether HLA matching could provide a bona fide immunological advantage in high-risk corneal transplantation.

Commenting after the session, Prof. Jesper Hjortdal (EU Cornea Board Member and VISICORT partner, Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark) noted: “Improving corneal transplantation outcomes is one of the key-issues for the European Society of Cornea and Ocular Surface Disease Society (EuCornea). In-depth exploitation of immune profiles and development of new, safe immunolomodulatory therapies are promising ways to do this. Hopefully, the VISICORT project will bring corneal transplantaion significantly further, being able, on a patient level, to predict who will do well and target mechanistically-informed immunomodulatory therapy to those that have a higher risk profile”.