Professor Alan Stitt is the first McCauley Chair of Experimental Ophthalmology in the School of Medicine, Queen’s University Belfast, having been appointed in March 2001. He is the Director of the newly formed Centre for Vision & Vascular Science (CVVS) at Queen’s University Belfast.
He has published over 120 scientific papers in the inter-related areas of the biology of advanced glycation, pathogenesis of diabetic retinopathy and retinal angiogenesis. This research is supported by sustained funding from a range of organisations such as the MRC, BBSRC, Wellcome Trust and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).
In partnership with a network of national and international clinical and basic science collaborative partners, his programme of research has focused on important cellular and molecular mechanisms of retinal blood vessel dysfunction in the context of diabetes and age-related retinal disease. He holds a Royal Society Wolfson Foundation.
HARNESSING REGENERATIVE MEDICINE TO PREVENT DIABETES-RELATED SIGHT-LOSS
Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of visual impairment worldwide. Patients with diabetes may irreversibly lose sight as a result of the development of diabetic macular edema (DME) and/or proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), both of which are driven by a process of retinal blood vessel dysfunction, degeneration and progressive ischaemia. Although new treatments have been recently introduced for DME, including intravitreal vascular endothelial growth factor inhibitors (anti-VEGFs) and steroids, a high proportion of patients (~40-50%) do not respond to these therapies. Furthermore, for people with PDR, laser photocoagulation remains a mainstay therapy despite this being an inherently destructive procedure. Fresh perspectives are needed.
There is growing evidence that many vascular beds, including those of the retina, possess resident progenitor cells that have important roles in homeostasis and normal repair processes. Diabetes-related dysfunction of these reparative cells may make a significant contribution to early demise of the retinal vasculature during diabetes. This presentation will examine the identity of endothelial progenitor cells, their role in regenerative medicine and their importance for diabetic retinopathy. The molecular profiles and mechanism of action of these progenitors will be discussed and examples shown of how exposure to the diabetic milieu can alter their vasoreparative function. It will also be discussed how it could be possible to harness a progenitor-type known as endothelial colony forming cells (ECFCs) as a novel therapy to regenerate damaged vasculature. Data will be shown that demonstrates how ECFCs have emerged as the principal endothelial progenitor how they can be used to regenerate ischaemic retina, as occurs in diabetic retinopathy.