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 (www.nephstrom.eu) 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 PIs chair sessions at EVER 2019 in Nice

PIS Profs Jester Hjortdal and Uwe Pleyer present at EVER 2019 in Nice

The European Association for Vision and Eye Research (EVER) 2019 meeting was held in Nice, France on October 17th- 19th. VISICORT PIs Prof Uwe Pleyer of Charité and Prof Jesper Hjortdal of Aarhus University Hospital were in attendance and very active. VISICORT was represented and acknowledged in several sessions.

On Saturday, October 19th Prof Pleyer co-chaired a session “Cornea immunology: current understanding and window”, gave talks entitled “Immune modulation following keratoplasty – current and future aspects of opportunities” and ” Immune modulation following keratoplasty – Current and future aspects”, and co-chaired the immunology poster session. These sessions provided an up-to-date overview of the clinically relevant immune mechanisms in host defence, wound healing and response following transplantation.

Also, on October 19th, Prof Jesper Hjortdal co-chaired the session “Advances in Corneal Regenerative Therapies: Results from the EU Horizon2020 Project ARREST BLINDNESS”. ARREST BLINDNESS, one of VISICORT’s “Related Projects” was the first cornea research project funded under the EU Horizon 2020 program, with the goal of developing advanced next-generation corneal regenerative and restorative therapies, offering hope to patients where no suitable therapy exists. The project started in 2016 and runs until the end of 2019. In this symposium, the major achievements of the project will be described, with each talk representing a distinct work package within the project, targeting a specific cause of corneal blindness. The results demonstrate the concrete advancements that have been made over the past four years, to bring new advanced therapies closer to widespread clinical adoption.

The Ophthalmology world is fast-evolving and requires keen cooperation and harmonization between research, device innovations, and technical refinements. The European Association for Vision and Eye Research (EVER) aims to encourage the different aspects of research –basic, clinical and translational- concerning the eye and vision, and to promote mutual collaboration between different specialists and institutes involved in this field by means of publications, exchange of information.

VISICORT meeting with Epimune Diagnostics


Epimune (www.epimune-dx.com) and the VISICORT Consortium are interested in entering into a collaboration in the field of diagnosis and monitoring of corneal transplant recipients using epigenetic immune cell quantification. The goal of the collaboration is the exploration of epigenetic immune cell quantification to monitor patients after corneal transplantation and to detect (and potentially predict) adverse events earlier than with currently available methods.

The face to face meeting on Tuesday 10th October 2019 with Dr Christoph Sachsenmeier from Epimune Diagnostics was an opportunity to discuss the collaboration further and to explore new collaborations within the diabetic kidney and ophthalmology research areas.

Pictured L to R: Matt Griffin, Conor Murphy, Joan Ní Gabhann, Christoph Sachsenmeier and Diana Malata at the RCSI, Dublin

Attendees included VISICORT Coordinator Prof. Matt Griffin and Dr Siobhán Gaughan from NUI Galway, VISICORT team members from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland PI Prof. Conor Murphy, Dr Joan Ní Gabhann and Diana Malata of the RCSI, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Dr Christoph Sachsenmeier, the VP Business Development at Epimune.

Epimune’s goal is to revolutionize diagnosis and monitoring of patients with disorders of the immune system.  Epimune develops in vitro diagnostic (IVD) tests using proprietary epigenetic immune cell quantification technology (Baron et al., 2018). This approach allows for broad immune cell profiling from minute sample amounts (e.g. blood – fresh/frozen/dried; other bodily fluids; tissue). Epimune uses proprietary real-time PCR-based assays for quantification of more than 20 different immune cell types.

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!

VISICORT clinical trial listed on Charité’s BeCAT website

“An outstanding project within the VISICORT consortium is a Phase 1B clinical trial testing the safety and feasibility of intravenously administered allogeneic mesenchymal stromal cells (allo-MSC) as an immunotherapy for patients at high risk of keratoplasty. Following recent regulatory and ethical approval for the first clinical study on the risk therapy for cell therapy in risk keratoplasty, the inclusion of the first patients is imminent.”

VISICORT’s clinical trial is listed on the BeCAT web page. BeCAT, the Berlin Center for Advanced Therapy is Charité’s an amalgamation of cross-disciplinary project teams that develop and manufacture Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products (ATMP) for somatic cell therapeutics, gene therapeutics, and tissue engineering biotechnological tissue. Read about BeCAT and VISICORT (in German and English) here.

VISICORT publication in the Official Journal of the Transplantation Society

Congratulations to the team! VISICORT PIs and researchers spanning the consortium have recently released a new paper in the Official Journal of the Transplantation Society. The paper entitled: “High-Risk Corneal Transplantation, Recent Developments and Future Possibilities” was released 22 August 2019. Authors are W. John Armitage, PhD; Christine Goodchild, MD; Matthew D. Griffin, DMed; David J. Gunn, FRANZCO; Jesper Hjortdal, DMSc; Paul Lohan, PhD; Conor C. Murphy, PhD; Uwe Pleyer, MD; Thomas Ritter, PhD; Derek M. Tole, FRC Ophth; Bertrand Vabres, MD.

Abstract: “Human corneal transplantation (keratoplasty) is typically considered to have superior short- and long-term outcomes and lower requirement for immunosuppression compared to solid organ transplants because of the inherent immune privilege and tolerogenic mechanisms associated with the anterior segment of the eye. However, in a substantial proportion of corneal transplants, the rates of acute rejection and/or graft failure are comparable to or greater than those of the commonly transplanted solid organs. Critically, while registry data and observational studies have helped to identify factors that are associated with increased risk of corneal transplant failure, the extent to which these risk factors operate through enhancing immune-mediated rejection is less clear. In this overview, we summarize a range of important recent clinical and basic insights related to high-risk corneal transplantation, the factors associated with graft failure and the immunological basis of corneal allograft rejection. We highlight critical research areas from which continued progress is likely to drive improvements in the long-term survival of high-risk corneal transplants. These include further development and clinical testing of predictive risk scores and assays; greater use of multicenter clinical trials to optimize immunosuppressive therapy in high-risk recipients and robust clinical translation of novel, mechanistically-targeted immunomodulatory and regenerative therapies that are emerging from basic science laboratories. We also emphasize the relative lack of knowledge regarding transplant outcomes for infection-related corneal diseases that are common in the developing world and the potential for greater cross-pollination and synergy between corneal and solid organ transplant research communities.”

Find this and all of the other VISICORT publications here.

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.

VISICORT PIs present at Societas Ophthalmologica Europæa

On June 16, 2019, Prof. Jesper Hjortdal, of the Aarhus University Hospital gave a presentation at the SOE (Societas Ophthalmologica Europæa, or European Society of Ophthalmology) on “Adverse immune signatures after corneal transplantation” based on the preliminary findings in the VISICORT study. This year the SOE held its bi-annual meeting in Nice, France. The symposium on “The Bad and Ugly Side of Corneal Grafting: How to Avoid and Manage Complications” was well attended.

VISICORT PI Prof. Conor Murphy, RCSI, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland also presented at the symposium. Conor’s presentation was titled: “Primary failure after corneal transplantation, definition and incidence”.

The SOE’s Society’s mission is to become the central point of European Ophthalmology primarily through education as well as fostering closer collaboration with Subspecialty Societies and Supranational Organisations within Europe and beyond.

Interview 2: Proteomics Specialist Lisa Imrie, U of Edinburgh offers a research career snapshot

In the 5 years since its launch, VISICORT has gathered a unique collection of biological samples from corneal transplant recipients across 5 European countries. We are especially motivated to ensure that the generosity of these patients has a legacy of new research that continues to grow beyond the life-time of the project itself. Lisa’s exciting PhD project is a perfect example of this potential. I am particularly proud that we have been able to attract a talented scientist at the University of Edinburgh into the field of corneal transplant biology and that her research has the potential to directly benefit patients with corneal disease in the future.

VISICORT Coordinator, Professor Matthew Griffin
Lisa Imrie, University of Edinburgh, EdinOmics

Lisa Imrie is a Proteomics Specialist at the University of Edinburgh and a graduate of Edinburgh Napier University with a degree in microbiology and biotechnology. She has recently started her PhD studies taking a unique perspective in the analysis of biosamples from the VISICORT Foundation Biobank.

In this interview (2 of 2), Danielle Nicholson, Pintail Limited poses questions to Lisa about her work in proteomics, what a career in laboratory science really looks like and her PhD research.

What is proteomics and how did this become an interest for you?

Proteomics is the large-scale study of proteomes (a set of proteins produced by an organism/system).  It can be used to investigate when/where proteins are expressed, protein production rates, protein modifications (e.g. PTMs), protein-protein interactions, and how proteins are involved in metabolic pathways, amongst other things. 

I first became interested in proteomics between the third and fourth year of my undergraduate degree.  I worked for the summer in a local research institute in what was then their “Functional Genomics Unit” which had one mass spectrometer which I used to identify proteins that were present in researcher’s samples by peptide mass fingerprinting.  I was then invited back to complete my honours project within the same unit and that’s when I was hooked.  As luck would have it, on the completion of my honours project a position came up within the expanding unit that I successfully applied for and thus began my career in mass spectrometry and proteomics.

What are your main goals as a PhD researcher?

One main goal of this project is to identify clinically useful biomarkers in eye disease patients.  To this end, I will use mass spectrometry instrumentation to identify proteomic, metabolomic and lipidomic markers in different eye tissues across both keratoconus and FECD.  This will be the first time in ophthalmic research that this combination of omics data sets will be integrated to provide a better understanding of the disease mechanisms of these corneal diseases.

Another goal is to build as wide a knowledge base as possible around my chosen topic.  Every day I’m learning more and more and each new fact will undoubtedly lead to more research down a different avenue.  Compiling all this information to give me the best chance of successfully completing this project will be an ongoing effort.

“I love immersing myself in the literature related to this topic, applying it to my own work and theories and seeing what direction my research will take me in on a daily basis!”

Lisa Imrie, PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh

Give us a snapshot of your work environment and day.

I work in the Kings Buildings campus of the University of Edinburgh.  There are many campuses across the city and we’re based on the south side.  All of Science and Engineering (including the School of Biological Sciences where I work) are based on this campus.  The facility I work in is called EdinOmics and there are currently four staff members who work here:  an academic leader, a metabolomics specialist, a proteomics specialist (me) and a lab manager.  Our mass spectrometry lab is situated on the ground floor and we all have offices dotted about the building.  I have an office just opposite the lab which is great for popping in and checking on the status of all the instruments and generally keeping an eye on things.  For all sample preparation, we have a wet lab on the first floor which has all the general lab equipment you’d expect to see in any biological lab.  Within our building, there are six different research groups and we all share the same wet lab, however, our mass spectrometry lab is just dedicated to the EdinOmics group and the instruments. 

Describe your typical day. What do you do? What skills do you need?

A normal day for me would start with arriving at work at around 8.30 and heading straight to the mass spectrometry lab.  The first thing I like to do before anything else is to check that the instruments are working as expected and there are no blinky red lights on anything – not good news!  If there have been samples run the previous day or through the night I’ll start the data analysis for them which will involve the files being converted into a database searchable format which can take a little time.  Whilst this is ticking over I’ll head to the office and switch on my PC before making myself a cup of coffee.  My day will then consist of any combination of:

·      Data analysis from samples run the previous day/overnight

·      Reporting of results to clients either by email or in person

·      Meeting with potential clients who are interested in using the facility to answer their research questions

·      Any general lab maintenance requiring attention

Throughout all this, whenever I have time, I will focus on my own PhD project.  At the moment this will include the ongoing literature search to broaden my knowledge of the topic and keep up to date with what’s been achieved in the field so far as well as planning any pilot experiments to work up the methods I plan to use throughout my project.  All this juggling requires a lot of time management skill and it is definitely one of the most difficult parts of my job.  Finding time for both running the facility and my PhD project can be challenging!

What are your main interests outside science?

I have a young family (11yr old daughter and 7yr old son) so my interests outside of work revolve mainly around them!  They definitely have better social lives than I do and between my husband and myself, we spend most of our time taxiing them around to various clubs/sports.  It’s great to see them grow into confident young people so I wouldn’t have it any other way.  If I manage to get a minute to myself I like to socialise with family and friends and put the world to rights over dinner & drinks.

What advice would you give to a young person wanting to pursue a career in science?

Keep an open mind and don’t try to “specialise” too early.  I went from an interest in marine biology to microbiology to biotechnology and ended up working with mass spectrometers in the omics fields.  Similarly, don’t be scared to branch out even when you have decided on your field of interest.  If someone had told me a couple of years ago that I’d be doing a PhD related to ophthalmology I would have laughed at them.  It’s amazing where a career in science can take you!

Sum up what you find most interesting about your work now in just one sentence.

I love immersing myself in the literature related to this topic, applying it to my own work and theories and seeing what direction my research will take me in on a daily basis!