National Eye Research Centre, U.K. funds VISICORT exploitation research

VISICORT PIs Professors Malcolm Walkinshaw (University of Edinburgh) and Conor Murphy (RCSI, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and Dr Karl Burgess and Lisa Imrie were recently awarded funding (£66,500) from the National Eye Research Centre (U.K.), (NERC) for the research project: A Multi-omics approach to eye tissue characterisation in Keratoconus & Fuch’s Dystrophy patients. Congratulations to the team and in particular to Lisa who has pioneered the use of a multi-omics approach in analysing eye tissues.

The fully-funded PhD project will examine two common conditions affecting the cornea – keratoconus and Fuch’s endothelial corneal dystrophy (FECD). Lisa, a proteomics specialist will identify families of proteins, lipids, and metabolites (“multi-omics”) using mass spectrometry – an instrumental method looking at the chemical composition of substances. Analysing different eye tissue samples from the same patient at different time points will allow for a better understanding of how these diseases develop and progress. The research will benefit from access to a collection of more than 3000 biosamples from people with either keratoconus or FECD that have been enrolled in the VISICORT cross-sectional analysis study, where the different eye tissues have been stored and linked to a clinical database with detailed information about each patient.

“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

The 3-year project will also draw upon the VISICORT network of clinical and scientific experts in the field of corneal disease. This work will identify signalling and metabolic pathways that are clearly implicated in keratoconus and FECD disease aetiology. Lisa aims to get started on October 1, 2020.

NERC, the National Eye Research Centre ( is a charitable incorporated organisation and community of donors, volunteers, researchers, healthcare professionals, and fundraisers working together towards a common goal of beating sight loss forever. They fund pioneering research into the causes of eye disease to develop better prevention methods and more effective treatments for children and adults. NERC has been able to invest over £17 million in research projects that are bringing scientists ever closer to answering some of the most fundamental questions about eye health and eye disease.

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.

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.”  

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.

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

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:

RCSI’s Prof. Conor Murphy authors new Ophthalmology text

Prof Conor Murphy, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland has co-authored a new ophthalmology text with Mr Mark Batterbury. The book is entitled “Ophthalmology: An Illustrated Colour Text”. Although primarily aimed at medical students, the text will appeal to those practising or studying fields closely related to ophthalmology, including optometry, orthoptics and ophthalmic nursing too.

Divided into four sections, the first contains essential anatomy and physiology.  The second describes ophthalmic diseases using a predominantly anatomically-ordered approach.  The third deals with a collection of special topics, some disease-related, others covering clinical management.  The final part focusses on clinical problem-solving.

This is the fourth edition of an award-winning text. It has been extensively reviewed, modified and updated to ensure its relevance to people across the world requiring an introductory text in ophthalmology.  The Special Investigations chapter has been rewritten and illustrated to show how modern imaging devices help in diagnosis and monitoring.  One new chapter reviews a range of global ophthalmic problems and another provides an overview of eye problems in children. The book is also available as an ebook (online).

ISBN-13: 978-0702075025
ISBN-10: 0702075027
Congratulations to Conor!


Launch of VISICORT

Welcome to the VISICORT Project.  We are very excited to be launching the project in April 2014.

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