A team of researchers at Moorfields Eye Hospital and the UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering have been awarded a £1.1million grant from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to develop a robotic system to help replace damaged retinal cells in people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
New advances in regenerative and cellular therapies have meant that it might soon be possible to restore some sight for people with AMD. Researchers have been able to grow new retinal cells that could be transplanted to replace the damaged cells in the eye. However, delivery of these treatments, under the retina, is currently performed using a hand-held needle. This is very demanding for surgeons and is at the limit of what can be achieved with conventional surgery, which restricts what success can be achieved.
The funding grant awarded by the Invention for Innovation programme will be used to develop a flexible robotic system, which will be able to perform these more intricate surgeries. The idea is that the robot acts like a mechanical hand, which will be guided by the clinician. It will enable safe, dexterous interventions at the retinal and subretinal layers.
Professor Lyndon da Cruz, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital and clinical lead for the project, said: “Significant progress in cellular therapy has meant that we are one step closer to restoring sight and improving AMD patients’ quality of life. However, this huge clinical advancement cannot be realised without the engineering input needed to enable effective cellular delivery. Interdisciplinary collaboration is essential to this research’s success.”
Programme leader Dr Christos Bergeles from UCL Faculty of Engineering Science, who spoke about his plans to design the robotic system in winter Sideview 2016, said: “This project is a truly multidisciplinary effort. It is a pioneering new treatment and, with millions of AMD sufferers worldwide, it has a potentially vast patient impact. Advancing successful retinal cellular delivery to become a clinical reality would be a major milestone in the capabilities of ocular research.”
The collaborative project will have scientific, engineering and clinical input from Moorfields Eye Hospital, UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Wellcome EPSRC Centre for Interventional and Surgical Science (WEISS).