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The Centenary Campaign: Seeing into the future

20 June 2014

Retinal degeneration is one of the main causes of blindness and visual impairment worldwide. But now, thanks to generous donations to our Centenary Campaign, a Bristol PhD student, Jessica Cooke (PhD 2011-) has developed a pioneering new treatment to help those affected by this debilitating condition.

Nearly two million people are visually impaired in the UK, and for 85 per cent of patients there are no therapies or cures. Often, the eye cells that fail are those that convert light into electrical signals: the photoreceptors. 

Funded by the James Tudor Foundation, Jessica has successfully engineered new, healthy photoreceptors using stem cells. In the future, she hopes these cells could be used to help treat those affected by degenerative eye conditions.

Jessica said: “The grant from the James Tudor Foundation has been absolutely pivotal in establishing my career as a stem cell researcher. Being in one of the world’s best labs secured me a position as a postdoctoral researcher at the National Institute of Health, where I can continue to work on stem cells to produce photoreceptors that can be transplanted.”

Jessica’s cutting-edge research has the potential to treat not just one condition, but many. Clinical trials are already underway, and Jessica hopes they will move to human trials in the next few years.

Jessica has been working alongside Professor Andrew Dick, Professor of Ophthalmology in the School of Clinical Sciences and you can watch Professor Andrew Dick explain more about the project and the department in his video: ‘Moving science into clinical practice.’

You can also support postgraduate students, like Jessica, and find out more about other projects alumni gifts have helped on our Centenary Campaign pages.