VISICORT receives a 6-month extension

We are pleased to report that VISICORT has been granted a 6-month no-cost extension from the European Commission to continue the project’s ongoing major research activities following delays caused by the COVID19 pandemic. This extension will provide the consortium with additional time for data collection and analysis from our three multi-centre clinical studies which are analysing bio-samples and clinical outcomes from more than 700 human subjects and for the manufacture of allogeneic mesenchymal stromal cells for the initiation of the VISICORT clinical trial to be conducted at Charité University Hospital and Charité Research Organisation in Berlin. The new end-date for VISICORT FP7-funded research is March 31st 2021. The consortium is also pursuing future funding opportunities to build new innovative and collaborative projects in the areas of corneal transplantation and corneal diseases.

2020 COP&S conference coordinated by VISICORT PI Dr Bertrand Fabres slated for November 12 & 13th

COP&S meeting, November 12th & 13th, 2020 in Tours

The COrnée Practique & Scientifique (COP & S) meeting for ophthalmologists involved in cornea practice, and eye banking, will take place on November 12th and 13th, 2020 in Tours, France. The meeting consists of lectures, panel discussions, surgical videos, and satellite symposia.

The two-day meeting is being co-coordinated by VISICORT PI Dr Bertrand Fabres based at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Nantes of INSERM. On the second day, Dr Fabres will moderate a session titled: Corneal transplant, a story of donor-recipient encounter 1. During this session, he will present “Deep anterior lamellar keratoplasty.”

See the here for the preliminary programme.

VISICORT presented at Ophthalmology changing event, Berlin

On Saturday, August 15, 2020, in Berlin, a simultaneous face-to-face and virtual event occurred which involved 300 ophthalmologists! Hosted by the Eye Clinic at Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the theme of the event was Ophthalmology changing. The face-to-face portion of the event took place at the STATION Berlin conference centre.

In the second session of the one-day event, VISICORT was presented and acknowledged by private lecturer Dr Tina Dietrich during her talk entitled: “Update transplant immunology – implication for perforating keratoplasty DMEK”. VISICORT PI Prof Dr Uwe Pleyer presented “Therapy of Immune-Mediated Diseases: From Steroid to Biological” and also chaired the third session of the day.

Read the entire detailed programme here.


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 (https://www.nercuk.org/) 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.

VISICORT PI Prof Sophie Brouard wins prestigious CNRS 2020 Innovation Medal

Sophie Brouard: finding industrial applications for innovations against graft rejection

Sophie Brouard est lauréate de la médaille de l’Innovation du CNRS 2020. Directrice de recherche au Centre de recherche en transplantation et immunologie (CRTI, INSERM/CHU de Nantes/Université de Nantes/ITUN).

Since 2011, the CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research) Innovation Medal rewards figures whose exceptional research work has led to groundbreaking innovation in the technological, economic, therapeutic, and social fields. Our PI Professor Sophie Brouard, of INSERM was one of four 2020 recipients. The career paths of CNRS 2020 Innovation medallists illustrate the quality, variety, and wealth of research conducted at the CNRS, as well as the different ways of finding applications for it. “Scientists who wish to transfer their results to the broader social and business world can now rely on a wide range of support mechanisms set up by the CNRS in recent years,” points out the organisation’s Deputy CEO for Innovation Jean Luc Moullet. The four 2020 medallists are also proof that research, however basic, can lead to the emergence of companies and enable transfers towards the business world.

A veterinarian by training, Sophie Brouard gradually became interested in the problem of graft rejection in kidney and lung transplants. She currently serves as a CNRS research professor at the CRTI (Centre de recherche en transplantation et immunologie – Université de Nantes/Inserm/ITUN/CHU de Nantes), and focuses on alleviating the burden of heavy anti-rejection treatments, which cause numerous side effects. “With my medical and veterinary training, I have always needed to know what applications my research will find,” she stresses. It was originally while looking at the few kidney transplant patients who could forgo treatment that she revealed the B-lymphocyte regulation phenomena and explored the mechanisms through which it occurs, with a view to a possible therapy. Part of her research is also dedicated to identifying biomarkers to evaluate, predict, and diagnose the risk of kidney or lung graft rejection, in an effort to better anticipate and adapt treatments. With her knowledge of the needs of industry and technology transfer players, she has used her work to meet the needs of companies. With 163 scientific publications and 13 patents under her belt, she believes it is important to emphasise that “research is conducted by a team“. In partnership with academic colleagues, she has launched two start-ups, TcLand Expression and Effimune, which became OSE Immunotherapeutics, to develop therapeutic tools in various research fields related to cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Read the full press release from CNRS here.

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 (https://aniridia-net.eu/)?

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. Aniridia-net.eu 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 (www.cost.eu).

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: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ymthe.2020.05.023 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