Role of immune cells in macular scarring development explored

Research funded by Fight for Sight is being carried out by Queen’s University Belfast

Macular scar
Researchers are exploring the role that immune cells play in the development of macular scarring.

The study, which is funded by Fight for Sight, is being carried out by Queen’s University Belfast researchers who will use the findings to develop therapies that target immune cells in order to prevent and treat retinal scarring.

The charity explained that why macular scarring occurs is not fully understood. It causes irreversible sight loss in over half of patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Current treatments work by destroying the abnormal blood vessels that develop in the eye, but half of patients are unable to benefit from this treatment due the development of scar tissue in the macular.

Director of research, policy and innovation at Fight for Sight, Dr Neil Ebenezer, said: “By understanding the mechanisms behind scarring it will not only allow current treatments to work to its full capacity, but it will also help aid the development of new therapies for patients living with this condition.”

Researchers explained that when tissue is damaged, immune cells such as macrophages are recruited to remove debris and promote repair. However, they believe that excessive accumulation of macrophages contributes to the development of scarring.

The study will identify the microphages that promote scarring and the ones that dissolve macular scarring. The underlying mechanisms behind the recruitment of pro-scarring macrophages will be examined and explored.

Lead researcher at Queen’s University Belfast, Professor Heping Xu, said: “A macular scar, once formed, can cause permanent damage to vision. The abnormal vessels in wet AMD take months to years to scar, which offers a window for prevention or early treatment. We have been investigating the mechanism underlying scar development from abnormal vessels for more than five years. Our goals are to improve current therapy and to develop strategies for scar prevention or treatment.”