UCL Institute of Ophthalmology


Prof Mike Cheetham awarded funding in CRACK IT 2016 Challenge

17 March 2017

Rods (green) and cones (red/yellow)…

Congratulations to the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology’s Professor Mike Cheetham who has recently been awarded funding by the National Centre for the Replacement Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).

The NC3Rs’s CRACK IT Challenge brings together industry, academia and SMEs to tackle current scientific questions (‘Challenges’) that have the potential to deliver commercial benefits and reduce the reliance on the use of animals in research.

Professor Cheetham, along with Professor Majlinda Lako at Newcastle University and Professor Stefan Liebau at University of Tübingen have received funding for their Challenge ‘Retinal 3D: Establishing a Physiologically-Competent Human Retinal 3D Model.’ It is sponsored by Roche, Merck and Novartis.

Stem cells have the ability to produce all the different types of cell that make up our bodies. Recent technological advances with stem cells means that 3 dimensional organoids can be produced with the properties of the light sensitive human retina. This has enabled researchers to study how some diseases lead to blindness, and how the retina responds to drugs in a dish in the laboratory, without having to use animals. This project aims to build on these technological advances to develop a reliable and robust system for producing these ‘3D retina’ and test if they can be used to understand drug effects on the eye and develop new therapies for currently untreatable conditions.

The CRACK IT Phase 1 proof-of-concept stage winners have the opportunity to apply for Phase 2 where a single contract of up to £1 million will be awarded to one research team to deliver the full Challenge.

Professor Cheetham said, ‘It is incredibly exciting now that we can produce a human retina in a dish. This technology is opening up new ways to investigate retinal biology and understand what goes wrong in blindness. It might make it possible to test the effect of drugs on the human retina, without having to treat people, so that we can develop new drugs with less risk of side effects. We could also potentially replace the use of animals in some testing and improve our understanding of how drugs work.

‘This initial seed funding from the NC3Rs CRACK IT challenge is helping us to develop these ‘retina in a dish’ and tackle some of the technical problems to help make this technology more widely available in the future, hopefully through continued funding in Phase 2.’