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Project information

Diabetic retinopathy: addressing sight loss

Diabetes can lead to severe visual impairment - most notably by its impact on the retina. This research will assess the potential for a group of stem cells (known as endothelial progenitor cells - EPCs) to develop a stem cell therapy for diabetic retinopathy.

October 2011 - September 2014

Charity information: Fight for Sight

Fight for Sight logo
  • Need


    Nearly 3 million people in the UK are currently diagnosed with diabetes; 220 million people worldwide have diabetes. About 5% of all deaths globally are caused by diabetes and the World Health Organisation estimates that the number of deaths caused by diabetes will double between 2005 and 2030. Diabetic retinopathy (scarring of the retina caused by weakened blood cells) is one of the main consequences of diabetes - over 10% of people with diabetes will experience severe sight loss or blindness.


    Evidence suggests that EPCs can be isolated and injected into patients to assist blood vessel repair. Unfortunately, the regenerative potential of EPCs in diabetic patients is greatly impaired. This research will assess EPCs in the context of diabetes and concentrate on a specific EPC-type that is widely used clinically - although not, so far, in the retina. It will have important impact by providing basic information on how to develop a novel stem cell treatment for diabetic retinopathy.

  • Aims

    Aim 1

    To assess the nature of EPCs in the context of diabetes.


    » This project will concentrate on a specific EPC-type that has not previously been used in the retina.

    What success will look like

    Knowledge gained from this research will establish a foundation for stem cell therapy at an early stage of diabetic retinopathy, thus protecting the sight of people with diabetes.

  • Impact


    This project will address critical biological questions and take important steps in the transition from stem cell biology to regenerative medicine for the treatment of diabetic retinopathy.


    Although unlikely, there is a risk that the PhD student recruited to carry out this research doesn't see it through. We have mitigated this risk by ensuring that the supervisors for the project are experienced and highly regarded in their fields; the facilities available are excellent; and that the research programme is challenging but achievable.


    Funders of this project will receive regular updates on Fight for Sight's progress in preventing and treating blindness. We will send an annual progress report relating to this project, detailing milestones and performance against these.

  • Budget

    Budget - Project Cost: £99,908

    Loading graph....
      Amount Heading Description
      £65,313 Student costs Stipend, PhD fees and travel costs for student
      £34,595 Equipment costs Scientific equipment and consumables
  • Background


    The project will be carried out in the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science, Queen's University Belfast. Vision research at Queen's has an established record in diabetic retinopathy research dating back to the 1970s and has continued to grow to the present day. The clinical research team at the Centre are recognised as leaders nationally and internationally.


    Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of blindness among people of working age in the UK. The stem cell therapy treatment that this research will lead towards will have a significant impact in preventing sight loss for this population.

  • Why Us?

    Why Us?

    Fight for Sight is the UK's leading charity dedicated to funding world-class research into the prevention and treatment of blindness and eye disease. As a member of the AMRC, all of the grant applications we receive are subjected to a robust peer review process by global experts in the field to ensure that we only fund the best eye research in UK universities and hospitals.

    Read more about the Charity running this project.


    Professor Alan Stitt, McCauley Chair Of Experimental Ophthalmology, Centre For Vision Science And Vascular Science, Queen's University Belfast

    Prof Stitt will be the primary supervisor for the PhD student undertaking this project. He is recognised as a leading expert on diabetic retinopathy.

    Dr Reinhold Benavente

    Dr Benavente currently holds a Fight for Sight Early Career Investigator Award at the Centre and will be second supervisor on the project.

    Dr Heping Xu

    Dr Xu is a senior lecturer at the Centre and will be third supervisor for the project.