A team of researchers at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust are collaborating with the UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering to develop a robotic system to help replace damaged retinal cells in people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
AMD is an eye condition that affects the macula, the small area at the centre of the retina, and is responsible for what we see straight in front of us at the centre of our field of vision. AMD affects more than half a million people in the UK, making it one of the most common causes of sight loss.
New advances in regenerative and cellular therapies have meant that it might soon be possible to restore some sight for people with AMD. Researchers have been able to grow new retinal cells that could be transplanted to replace the damaged cells in the eye. Delivery of these cells is currently performed using a handheld needle. The manipulation required for this is technically challenging and the success of the treatment would depend on the skills of the surgeon.
To help overcome the current limitations of cell delivery, the National Institute for Health Research has awarded a grant of £1.1million to a collaborative research project that will have scientific, engineering and clinical input from University College London, Moorfields and Wellcome EPSRC Centre for Interventional and Surgical Science.
The funding grant awarded by the Invention for Innovation programme will be used to develop an innovative robotic system that will steady motion and allow for accurate manipulation of delicate retinal tissue during surgery. The robotic technology will be coupled with advanced imaging techniques, like optical coherence tomography and angiography, that will give the surgeon better visualisation of the subretinal layers and vessels in the eye to deliver the new retinal cells with precision.
Professor Lyndon da Cruz, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Moorfields Private Eye Hospital and clinical lead for the project said:
“Significant progress in cellular therapy has meant that we are one step closer to restoring sight and improving AMD patients’ quality of life. However, this huge clinical advancement cannot be realised without the engineering input needed to enable effective cellular delivery. Interdisciplinary collaboration is essential to this research’s success.”
Dr Christos Bergeles from the UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering and principal investigator for the project said:
“This project is a truly multidisciplinary effort. It is a pioneering new treatment and, with millions of AMD sufferers worldwide, it has a potentially vast patient impact. Advancing successful retinal cellular delivery to become a clinical reality would be a major milestone in the capabilities of ocular research.”