North Staffs scientists have used a £10,000 charity grant to help make eye surgery safer for thousands of glaucoma patients.
The research team, based at Keele University’s Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine, were awarded the funding by charity the North Staffordshire Medical Institute.
They have used it to try and improve outcomes of the trabeculectomy surgical procedure, commonly used to treat the eye disease glaucoma.
The condition – which is Britain’s second biggest cause of sight loss – occurs when the optic nerve and retina are damaged, caused by a build-up of fluid that increases pressure inside the eye.
A trabeculectomy involves making a small hole in the wall of the eye so that fluid can drain away, relieving the excess pressure.
However up to 30 per cent of the operations fail due to the body’s natural healing processes, which cause the hole to heal up and close again.
The researchers, led by tissue engineer Professor Ying Yang, have been looking for better ways to stop the eye from forming scar tissue and closing the new drainage channels.
She said: “The surgical procedure is the creation of an opening to allow the draining of fluid, but the body is automatically programmed to react if there’s a wound to try and close it.
“If it closes, this kind of surgery will fail. But your body doesn’t realise there is a benefit to this wound.”
To address the problem, Prof. Yang’s research team have used conjunctival cells to create a mimic of human eye tissue under lab conditions.
They have tested the tissue with various drug doses to find the most reliable way of preventing inflammation and wound healing, without damaging the surrounding cells.
She added: “It’s difficult to work with a human eye and if you use an animal eye they’re not very representative. So we’re able to generate material in the lab that you can use to test whatever you wish – generate artificial wounds, add different growth factors and cytokines or test drug treatments.
“This will help us to predict what will happen in the patient’s eye after glaucoma surgery.”
The team has also been testing a new medical device to treat glaucoma called the XEN gel stent, which involves injecting a tiny gelatin tube into the eye to keep the drainage channel open.
They hope to use the results of their research to attract funding for a larger study.
Prof. Yang said: “The value of the Institute’s grant is that it’s kind of like a seed. We’re not just relying on this funding – through this we’re able to generate the proof of concept to attract more clinicians to participate in our research.”
The original grant was allocated in 2014 as part of the NSMI’s annual awards, which are funded by a combination of public donations, bequests and the income from room hire at the charity’s base on Hartshill Road, Stoke.
Once Britain’s first postgraduate centre, the iconic building is now used as a conference facility.
While the annual funding for 2018 has now all been allocated, researchers will soon be able to apply for the Institute and UHNM’s Firelighter Awards of up to £10,000.
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