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

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!

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.”

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!