The MRC Human Genetics Unit hosted the Eye Development & Degeneration: From Genes to Therapy meeting September 4-5th, 2017. This event brought together researchers and clinicians from Hong Kong to Brazil, at all stages of their careers, from PhD students to emeritus professors. The conference provided a great overview of the past, present and future of eye research, with Prof. Graeme Black from the University of Manchester saying that, following the successful gene discovery stage and improvements in diagnosis, we are now in the postmodern era where the emphasis is on genomic analysis and prediction of eye health.

The stage was set with talks about eye development and the genetics involved, and was followed by talk that demonstrated how genetic mutations can lead to retinal diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Work on modelling eye disease with the help of patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), CRISPR-Cas9-mediated gene editing of model organisms and advanced imaging techniques predict eye disease and even neurodegeneration from retinal images. As researchers learn more about the cause of a disease, they can start developing treatments.  Speakers also presented their ground-breaking work on therapeutic approaches using cell replacement therapies, gene therapies and "bionic eyes" that can restore some vision to people with end-stage retinal degeneration.

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Photography courtesy of Craig Nicol.

 

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Patient meeting

As part of the Eye Development & Degeneration meeting, the MRC HGU also hosted a patient-facing event, welcoming 40 patients suffering from vision-impairing conditions, along with their family members and guide dogs. Short talks by researchers and clinicians about current research on macular degeneration and eye abnormalities, as well as retinal disease therapy with the help of genome editing and stem cells. The talks were followed by a Q and A session with a panel of leading researchers and clinicians with an expertise in eye disorders.

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Poster session

Congratulations to Yingdi Chen, a graduate student from the University of Newcastle for her award-winning poster entitled "The role of microglial activation in the photoreceptor survival in a mouse model of retinal degeneration". Well done Yingdi.

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Main event

The two-day meeting provided lots of opportunity for discussions between clinicians, geneticists and scientists at all stages of their careers.