ANIRIDIA.NET, VISICORT’s latest Related Project

We feature several Related Projects on our website. ANIRIDIA.NET is the latest EU-funded project we feature. We caught up with Juliana Martínez-Atienza for a short interview to learn more about this COST Action.

Juliana Martínez-Atienza

My name is Juliana Martínez-Atienza, I am a pharmacist and work as a project manager for the Andalusian Network for Advanced Therapies, in Southern Spain. This job has provided me with the opportunity to design and coordinate clinical research projects in ocular surface disease, testing tissue engineering and cell therapy products.  In ANIRIDIA-NET I am the person responsible for science communication, and so I am responsible for dissemination and promotion of our Action’s network.

Can you please tell us a little bit about the COST Action ANIRIDIA-NET (

The main aim and objective of COST Action CA18116 ANIRIDIA: NETWORKING TO ADDRESS AN UNMET MEDICAL, SCIENTIFIC, AND SOCIETAL CHALLENGE (ANIRIDIA-NET) is to mobilize and characterize aniridia groups across Europe, share new scientific knowledge, technologies and platforms existing in different centres, and evaluate the applicability and translatability of new approaches for treating individuals with aniridia. is funded through COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology), the longest-running European framework supporting trans-national cooperation among researchers, engineers and scholars across Europe. 

For those of us who are not too familiar, please describe aniridia.

Aniridia is a devastating ocular disease requiring intensive eye care, social and community support from birth and throughout an individual’s lifetime. A congenital genetic mutation causes an underdeveloped retina, cataract, glaucoma, and a progressive ocular surface disease of stem cell deficiency and loss of corneal transparency. Classified as a rare disease (ORPHA:77), aniridia is extremely challenging for the ophthalmologist, with very few effective treatments available. This stems from a lack of adequate-sized patient populations to conduct coordinated clinical and research activities, and a lack of information exchange in assessing and treating aniridia, with expertise typically limited to geographically-dispersed centres.

What are the goals of the project ANIRIDIA-NET?

There are three overarching goals. We aim to:

  • Build a large, inclusive EU network of ophthalmologists, scientists, trainees, aniridia patient organizations, industry, and special interest groups to create linkages and a rich training ground for a new generation of trainees; 
  • Improve aniridia management through evidence-based research, harmonized clinical protocols, pooling/sharing of samples and models, and consensus activities; and 
  • Stimulate the development of novel diagnostics and treatments for aniridia based on innovative research in regenerative medicine/stem cells, investigational drugs, gene therapy, tissue engineering, transplantation, etc.

‘Aniridia is a rare disease, but it is complex and presents many challenges for doctors, scientists and patients alike. Its rarity means that only through communicating information and experiences, networking and collaboration, can we educate and develop better and more informed treatments for the aniridia community.’

ANIRIDIA-NET Coordinator Prof Neil Lagali, Linköping University

What does the project aim to achieve and how will this impact the field?

ANIRIDIA-NET aims to build the following capacities: 

  1. A pan-European aniridia patient registry and clinical research network with a repository of clinical data and patient samples would propel research in aniridia by giving access to samples for research and access to patient cohorts for clinical studies, and will also enable better definition of the clinical course of the disease, better understanding of mechanisms leading to aniridia, and personalized medicine approaches based on individual variability according to genotype/phenotype. 
  2. A centralized, high-throughput molecular genetic diagnostic platform providing quick mutational analysis to obtain fast and unambiguous information to guide treatment decisions, providing a basis for research into genotype-phenotype relationships. 
  3. Stronger cooperation between experts, researchers, patients and practitioners will result in better and broader dissemination of expert knowledge and improve the standard of care of aniridia through consensus-based and evidence-based activities (e.g., standardized patient monitoring/examination and treatment/surgery protocols, guidelines for children, preclinical studies of new treatments, etc.). 
  4. Through improved medical care and scientific breakthroughs, a better quality of life, stronger social inclusion and a higher socioeconomic capacity of persons affected by aniridia would enable them to better contribute to their communities.

How is this research related to VISICORT?

Thomas Ritter, a PI in VISICORT, is the Short Term Scientific Mission (STSM) Coordinator for ANIRIDIA-NET. STSMs are a key activity in COST actions, enabling the exchange of trainees between COST countries for education and capacity building.

Also, one of our working groups, led by Dr Davide Borroni from the University of Liverpool, is involved in networking activities that relate directly to VISICORT’s objectives. In fact, this group is working on activities aimed at improving transplantation, inflammation and immunity in aniridia-associated keratopathy. So, they will deliver publications or consensus protocols describing emerging surgical techniques, keratoprosthesis as well as new anti-inflammatory or inmunomodulatory therapeutic approaches to improve the ocular surface condition. 

Although a rare disease, aniridia is associated with ocular surface 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.

ANIRIDIA-NET is diverse, multidisciplinary network with a range of stakeholders, including clinicians, industrialists, basic science researchers, early-stage researchers and patients and patient advocacy groups. How will you ensure that they will communicate and interact? 

Researchers joining COST Actions are able to benefit from a wide range of COST networking tools. ANIRIDIA-NET holds regular management committee as well as working group meetings to coordinate and organise the Action’s scientific and networking activities. Our action also organizes Training Schools to share knowledge, provide support and collaboration to develop the Action’s goals.

Short Term Scientific Missions are exchange visits between researchers involved in the Action, allowing scientists to visit an institution or laboratory in another COST Member state. Their aim is to foster collaboration in excellent research infrastructures and share new techniques that may not be available in a participant’s home institution or laboratory. 

ANIRIDIA-NET also offers grants to attend international science and technology conference related to the Action’s goals.

Finally, our action also promotes the publication of scientific papers, press releases, talks and all sorts of dissemination documents to promote our network’s objectives and achievements.

Thank you very much!

This article/publication is based upon work from COST Action #CA18116, supported by COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology). COST is a funding agency for research and innovation networks to help connect research initiatives across Europe and enable scientists to grow their ideas by sharing them with their peers (

Download ANIRIDIA.NET’s brochure here.

Galway researchers publish work in Molecular Therapy

Congratulations to the National University of Ireland Galway and Orbsen Therapeutics team of Kevin Lynch, Oliver Treacy, Xizhe Chen, Nick Murphy, Paul Lohan, Md Nahidul Islam, Ellen Donohoe, Matthew D. Griffin, Luke Watson, Steven McLoughlin, Grace O’Malley, Aideen E. Ryan and Thomas Ritter! Their paper: TGF-b1-Licensed Murine MSCs Show Superior Therapeutic Efficacy in Modulating Corneal Allograft Immune Rejection In Vivo was published in the journal Molecular Therapy, on the 29th of May 2020. DOI: Download the pdf here.

This was the 24th VISICORT-acknowledged publication. View the entire list here. Also, follow VISICORT on Research Gate.

Regenerative Medicine Network publishes EU-MSC2 meeting report featuring VISICORT

VISICORT results were presented at EU-MSC2,  a bi-annual event, organized by the Leiden University Medical Center in The Netherlands. The meeting assembles researchers, clinicians and cell product developers working within EU-sponsored research consortia, that focus on mesenchymal stromal cell (MSC) therapy for immune-related disorders and tissue regeneration. EU-MSC2, a much-anticipated event provides excellent opportunities for networking, exploring new funding opportunities and the dissemination of results contributing to MSC knowledge-sharing, research and development.

VISICORT Coordinator Professor Matthew Griffin, of the National University of Ireland Galway, presented VISICORT’s clinical trial in his September 5, 2019 talk entitled:   A phase 1 clinical trial of allogeneic MSC in corneal re- transplant recipients: from pre-clinical evidence to regulatory approval.

The comprehensive meeting report prepared by Katerina Apelt, Brigitte Wieles and Melissa van Pel of LUMC was published on April 29th, 2020, by the Regenerative Medicine Network.  Read it here.

Message from Coordinator Prof Matt Griffin

Thank you for your interest in our research project and the VISICORT results.

Our international consortium is fully aware that the current situation regarding the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is having a significant impact on the research and innovation community. We anticipate that the precise nature of these impacts may evolve over the coming weeks and months. While we continue to actively work together on all aspects of the VISICORT research programme, some aspects of the project may be slowed as a result of the practical measures taken to contain the COVID virus.

Our institutions’ shared priority is the safety and wellbeing of people, including our own research teams and our patients who have contributed to the project.

On an ongoing basis, we are working to understand the nature of any impacts on VISICORT’s progress and to develop contingency plans toward achieving our goals and stimulating further research to improve the outcomes for corneal transplant recipients.

Prof Matthew Griffin, NUI Galway

Three new papers attributed to VISICORT!

VISICORT Coordinator Prof Matthew Griffin of the National University of Ireland Galway has recently published three papers acknowledging VISICORT work and funding:

  • Fazekas B and Griffin MD. “Mesenchymal stromal cell-based therapies for acute kidney injury: Progress in the last decade”, Kidney International, In Press, 2020 (Review). 28 January 2020. DOI: Pre-proof available here
  • Swaminathan S and Griffin MD. Editorial: “Innovative biologics and drugs to target renal inflammation”, Frontiers Renal Pharmacol, In Press, 2020  DOI: 10.3389/fphar.2020.00038 Read the full article here.
  • Negi N and Griffin MD. “Effects of mesenchymal stromal cells on regulatory T cells: Current understanding and clinical relevance”. Stem Cells, In Press, 29 January 2020 (Review). DOI:  Download the pdf here.

Congratulations to Matt and his international colleagues!

Read the growing list of VISICORT publications here:

NUI Galway team publishes VISICORT-acknowledged study

The team of Tomás Patrick Griffin, Md Nahidul Islam, Deirdre Wall, John Ferguson, Damian Gerard Griffin, Matthew Dallas Griffin and Paula M. O’Shea from NUI Galway recently published “Plasma dephosphorylated uncarboxylated Matrix Gla-Protein (dp-ucMGP): reference intervals in Caucasian adults and diabetic kidney disease biomarker potential” in the December 2019 edition of the open-access journal Scientific Reports.

Congratulations to all authors!

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 ( 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.”