A A A

Support Team

Heather Kneale

Executive Assistant to Prof. Robin Ali and Department of Genetics



Tabitha Owen  

Department Coordinator & Acting Personal Assistant to Prof. Robin Ali and Department of Genetics                 



Dr. Andi Skilton  

Ocular Gene and Cell Therapy Communications Manager                      

Meet the team



Senior Investigators

Professor Robin R. Ali - Head of Department of Genetics

Prof. Robin Ali

Research interests

The main focus of my research is the development of gene and stem cell therapy with the primary aim of developing novel treatments for eye disease. Over the past ten years we have been optimising gene transfer to the eye. We are engaged in a comprehensive programme of work to develop gene therapy for eye disease and in particular for disorders affecting the retina, including inherited retinal degeneration as well as complex diseases such as those associated with retinal and choroidal neovascularisation and posterior uveitis.


My research has utilised a variety of viral vectors, but my main interest is in the development of vector systems based on either adeno-associated virus (AAV) or lentiviruses. We have demonstrated the utility of these systems for gene transfer to the eye. A major aspect of our research is the development and use of a wide variety of genetic and experimental animal models of retinal disorders, including large animal models, in order to assess novel therapeutic approaches. We are engaged in a broad programme of work to demonstrate proof of concept for a number of alternative strategies, including gene replacement therapy and/or delivery of siRNA to treat animal models of inherited retinal degeneration and delivery of genes encoding angiostatic, anti-apoptotic, immunomodulatory or neurotrophic molecules to treat a variety of animal models. We are now also investigating the potential of stem or progenitor cell transplantation to repair degenerating retinae. A recent key discovery is that transplantation of rod precursor cells at a specific stage of development results in their integration and subsequent differentiation into rod photoreceptors that form synaptic connections and improve visual function in mouse models of retinal degeneration. Conversely, transplantation of progenitor or stem cells that are not at this precise ontogentic stage do not show this property and fail to integrate. We are now combining gene therapy approaches with that of stem cell transplantation and using viral vectors carrying genes encoding a variety of transcription factors in order to generate appropriate cells for transplantation from either embryonic or adult-derived stem cells.


In order to deliver new treatments, we have now established a programme of translational research. My research group includes a number of clinicians (clinical training fellows as well as senior clinican/scientists) and we have strong links with a number of biotechnology companies. We have recently established a Department of Health funded clinical trial of gene therapy for a form of severe childhood-onset retinal dystrophy due to mutations in the gene encoding RPE65. This condition is likely to be particularly amenable to effective treatment and the trial should facilitate future trials and underpin the programme of development of treatments for other retinal disorders. The first patients were enrolled in early 2007 and the first results from the trial were published in the New England Journal of Medicine in May 2008.

Download CV

Professor James Bainbridge

Prof. James Bainbridge

Research Interests

I am a surgeon-scientist at the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for Ophthalmology at Moorfields Eye Hospital and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. My programme of research extends from the laboratory investigation of mechanisms of disease in experimental models of sight loss to clinical trials of new medical and surgical interventions.

Since 2007 I have been the lead clinician in the world's first gene therapy trial for inherited blindness, demonstrating proof of-concept that offers hope for people with inherited retinal degeneration. I also lead Europe's first clinical trial using human embryonic stem cells, a first-in-human study to test the potential of retinal cell transplantation in macular degeneration. In 2011 I was appointed to the Chair of Retinal Studies at UCL, and in 2012 to a NIHR Research Professorship.

Download CV

Professor Michel Michaelides

Dr. Michel Michaelides

Research interests

I am interested in retinal diseases, particularly in research aimed at improving the care and long-term outcomes for these patients. Since my MD degree (2002-2004; Cone and Central Receptor Dystrophies – A Clinical and Molecular Genetic Investigation), this research interest has increasingly taken on a translational aspect - I now focus on studies that link clinical research with laboratory findings, especially in the form of clinical trials for novel gene and cell therapy for sight loss.

This requires a broad approach, including:

  1. Establishing a molecular genetic diagnosis in the majority of patients with retinal disease, helping to improve counselling, advice on prognosis, and provide a cohort of patients with molecularly proven disease who may be eligible for current and future treatment trials.
  2. Identifying the patients/genetic subtypes and time-points that may be most appropriate for interventions, and identify reliable and sensitive outcome measures.
  3. Assisting in the development of gene- and cell therapies to either significantly slow or halt disease progression - or ideally improve visual function and subsequently being the clinical lead in undertaking rigorous clinical trials to ascertain their efficacy.  

In July 2010 I was appointed as a Consultant Ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital in the departments of Medical Retina, Inherited Eye Disease and Paediatric Ophthalmology; and as a Clinical Senior Lecturer at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. These posts are partly funded by a prestigious and highly competitive Department of Health ‘New Blood’ Senior Lectureship Award. Prior to my appointment I have undertaken a medical retina and genetics clinical fellowship at Moorfields Eye Hospital, and a combined genetics and paediatric ophthalmology clinical and research fellowship at Casey Eye Institute, Portland, USA.

During my time at Casey I was in receipt of an International Guest Scholarship from the American College of Surgeons which primarily enabled me to foster continuing collaborations with the ocular genetics department at Casey Eye Institute and to strengthen collaborations with Professor Joe Carroll and his team at the Medical College of Wisconsin, working on advanced ocular imaging technologies such as adaptive optics.

In 2014 I was appointed Professor of Ophthalmology at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. 

Download full CV

Dr. Rachael Pearson

Dr. Rachael Pearson

Research interests

Retinal degenerations culminating in photoreceptor (PR) loss are the leading causes of untreatable blindness in the Western world. Clinical treatments are of limited efficacy, at best slowing disease progression. As such, there is a clear need for new therapeutic approaches.

Gene therapy is effective in the treatment of inherited retinal disease. However, such strategies will be ineffective once degeneration has occurred. PR transplantation offers a complementary approach that could not only halt the progression of blindness but also potentially reverse it.

In two landmark studies, we have demonstrated that, by using donor cells from early postnatal retina, PR cell transplantation is possible. The adult retina is capable of integrating transplanted cells & these cells develop unambiguous characteristics of mature PRs. Moreover, we demonstrated that the cells that possess this capacity to migrate & functionally integrate are post-mitotic PR precursors, rather than stem or progenitor cells (MacLaren & Pearson et al., Nature, 2006).

Most importantly, we now have definitive evidence of restoration of rod-mediated visually guided behaviour in rod-deficient mice following transplantation (Pearson et al., Nature, 2012). Of critical importance was the finding that the amount of vision restored is critically dependent upon the number of cells that correctly integrated.

Together, these establish a major proof-of-concept; that PR transplantation has the potential to improve not only retinal function but actually restore vision and provide strong justification for the continued research into photoreceptor transplantation strategies for the treatment of blindness. They also increase the need to find appropriate donor cells from non-fetal sources.

Recent advances in stem cell technology have demonstrated the potential to generate photoreceptor precursor donor cells. In a remarkable recent study, Eiraku et al., have demonstrated that it is possible to essentially grow a retina in a culture dish. We have recently started to generate transplantation-competent rod precursors from ES cells (West et al., Stem Cells, 2012; Gonzalez et al., in prep).

Download full CV

Dr. Alexander Smith


Research Team

If you have an enquiry for one of our researchers you can submit it via our Contact Us page or alternatively email eye.info@ucl.ac.uk.

Search by surname: 


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Name Position Research Area / Interest
 A    Click here to return to top
Laura Abelleira Hervas Technician Gene Therapy for Retinal Dystrophy
Dr. Jonathan Aboshiha PhD Student Deep Phenotyping
Daniel Ackland MSc Student Cell Transplantation
Dominic Aghaizu PhD Student Cell Transplantation
Dr. Leti Agundez Cortes Research Associate Gene Therapy for Retinal Dystrophy
Selina Azam Technician

Gene Therapy for Retinal Dystrophy

Inflammation and Neovascularisation

  Click here to return to top
Maeve Barlow  BMedSc Student  Inflammation and Neovascularisation
Dr. Mark Bashe Research Associate Inflammation and Neovascularisation
Sam Blackford Technician Stem Cell Culture and Differentiation
  Click here to return to top
Joana Claudio Ribeiro Technician

Gene Therapy for Retinal Dystrophy

Inflammation and Neovascularisation

Dr. Jill Cowing Laboratory Manager & Acting Health and Safety Officer Inflammation and Neovascularisation
Dr. Enrico Cristante Research Associate Inflammation and Neovascularisation
  Click here to return to top
Dr. Adam Dubis Principle Investigator

High Resolution Imaging

Deep Phenotyping

Gene Therapy for Retinal Dystrophy

Cell Transplantation

Yanai Duran Technician

Gene Therapy for Retinal Dystrophy

Cell Transplantation

  Click here to return to top
Milan Fernando Technician  Stem Cell Culture and Differentiation
  Click here to return to top
Dr. Peter Gardner Research Associate Inflammation and Neovascularisation
Dr. Anastasios Georgiadis Research Associate Gene Therapy for Retinal Dystrophy
Debbie Goh PhD Student  Stem Cell Culture and Differentiation
Dr. Anai Gonzalez Cordero Research Associate Stem Cell Culture and Differentiation
Anna Graca  PhD Student Cell Transplantation
  Click here to return to top
Melissa Kasilian Adaptive Optics Imaging Specialist High Resolution Imaging
Sophia-Martha kleine Holthaus PhD Student Gene Therapy for Retinal Dystrophy
Kamil Kruczek PhD Student Stem Cell Culture and Differentiation
  Click here to return to top
Dr. Sedate Liyanage PhD Student Inflammation and Neovascularisation
  Click here to return to top
Ryea Maswood Technician Gene Therapy for Retinal Dystrophy
Takaaki Matsuki PhD Student Gene Therapy for Retinal Dystrophy
Dr. Manjit Mehat PhD Student Stem Cell Culture and Differentiation
Dr. Katja Menger Research Associate Inflammation and Neovascularisation
Areta Michacz Technician Gene Therapy for Retinal Dystrophy
  Click here to return to top
Arifa Naeem Technician Stem Cell Culture and Differentiation
  Click here to return to top
Dr. Patrick Ovando-Roche Research Associate Stem Cell Culture and Differentiation
P   Click here to return to top
Dr. Saruban Pasu MD Student Ophthalmology
Dr. Kate Powell Research Associate

Gene Therapy for Retinal Dystrophy

Cell Transplantation

  Click here to return to top
Dr. Chloe Rackham Research Associate Cell Transplantation
Michael Ring Adaptive Optics Imaging Specialist High Resolution Imaging
Dr. Matteo Rizzi Research Associate

Gene Therapy for Retinal Dystrophy

Cell Transplantation

Dr. Scott Robbie Clinical Fellow Inflammation and Neovascularisation
Martha Robinson  PhD Student Gene Therapy for Retinal Dystrophy
  Click here to return to top
Robert Sampson FACS Facility Manager Fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS)
Dr. Tina Sepp Research Associate Inflammation and Neovascularisation
Dr. Rupert Strauss Clinical Research Fellow Inherited Retinal Dystrophies
  Click here to return to top
Preena Tanna PhD Student Deep Phenotyping
Dr. James Tee PhD Student Deep Phenotyping
  Click here to return to top
Nikita Ved  PhD Student Inflammation and Neovascularisation
Dr. Pilar Villacampa Alcubierre
Research Associate  Inflammation and Neovascularisation
  Click here to return to top
Paul Waldron PhD Student Cell Transplantation
Dr. Emma West Research Associate Stem Cell Culture and Differentiation

Page last modified on 16 jul 15 15:21