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UCL Institute of Ophthalmology

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Prof Pete Coffey

Prof Pete Coffey

Professor of Visual Psychophysics

Institute of Ophthalmology

Faculty of Brain Sciences

Joined UCL
1st Nov 2004

Research summary

Two major groups of diseases termed retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration are the leading causes of blindness. In these diseases, loss of vision is due to progressive degeneration of the light sensitive cells of the eye or defects in the supporting cells of the eye. There is no cure for this at present although several have been suggested from studies on experimental animals, mostly rats and mice with similar diseases. One of these involves the transplantation of cells to slow the degeneration of photoreceptors or replace photoreceptors lost by the disease. My work explores this approach with the object of finding the best conditions for transplantation, identifying events that might compromise transplant efficacy and finding solutions to their deleterious effects, and specifically an assessment of how much visual improvement might be expected from this approach. Most important it will provide the necessary science prior to the clinical application of this approach in people. Neuralised human embryonic stem cells (HESCs) represent a potentially unlimited source of progenitor cells for use in the repair of retinal disease. In addition to the genesis of retinal neurons, there is now compelling evidence that RPE can also be derived from undifferentiated HESCs. These ESA derived RPE cells not only appear to behave like normal RPE in culture but also have a gene expression profile more akin to primary human RPE. This is of particular clinical relevance to any RPE based transplantation strategies designed to treat AMD. HESCs will be used to generate precursors of retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells in vitro in order to provide a candidate therapeutic for age related macular degeneration (ARMD). The previously used method will be optimised with respect to RPE cells to improve both yield and reproducibility. RPE transplantation has already been shown to be capable of restoring the subretinal anatomy and improving photoreceptor function in a variety of retinal diseases. The sourcing of appropriate cell lines with the prerequisite characteristics of RPE will allow transplantation to enter the mainstream of retinal therapy at a time when the treatment of previously blinding retinal diseases is finally becoming a reality. These projects are funded by the London Project to Cure Blindness which aims to make the most of human embryonic stem cells to prevent blindness, restore sight, and improve quality of life in the first instance in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) within five years from the initiation of the programme (April 2007).

Education

University of Oxford
DPhil, Experimental Psychology | 1995
University of Sussex
BSc Hons, Experimental Psychology | 1985
Publications