Dr Lindsay Nicholson, University of Bristol is investigating endothelial activation in uveitis, an inflammatory eye condition, to find future therapies to treat uveitis.

In uveitis, the immune system attacks healthy tissue and damages it. The cells that co-ordinate this attack are called T cells, types of white blood cell that circulate around our bodies, scanning for cellular abnormalities and infections. Once uveitis has started, T cells move into the eye tissue and establish persistent changes, which make recurrence of disease more likely. The movement of cells into the eye is controlled by a number of different interactions with receptors at the surface of the T cells, on the surface of the cells that line blood vessels (endothelial cells) and soluble chemicals that bind to these receptors.

This research group’s preliminary work has shown that T cells sticking in and around the blood vessels is a very early event that occurs before the T cells cause any tissue damage. One important family of molecules that regulate this process is called the chemokines.

The researchers think that interfering with how the signals from this family are transmitted should inhibit the development of disease more effectively than inhibiting single molecules in the family. Dr Nicholson’s team have identified several novel proteins, found within T cells, which are targets to test this approach. 

To do this, the group will use CRISPR, a gene editing technology which allows the silencing of different candidate genes. With the experimental methods that this group has already devised for analysing the early steps of disease, they believe they can accelerate the testing of these novel targets in experiments, first on cell lines and then in more complicated models of the disease. If successful, this could offer a faster way to devise future therapies.

Read more about uveitis here.

National Eye Research Centre is making a concerted effort to provide as much support as possible for early career fellowships, with the help of generous and strategic funders, so that research like this can happen. Please donate to help us continue funding vital research to find new treatments for uveitis