Prof. Matthew Campbell

Professor Matthew Campbell is leading EYE-D, a €3.2 million research project focused on identifying the underlying causes of some of the most common forms of blindness under the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Strategic Partnership Programme.

Project: EYE-D includes Project A and Project B

Start date: 2022

Award amount: Fighting Blindness is one of the partners in this exciting project, and we are investing €300,000 in total in projects A & B within EYE-D.

Headshot of the Professor Matt Campbell
Image: Professor Matt Campbell

Professor Matthew Campbell is a Professor in Genetics and Head of Department at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics in Trinity College Dublin.

 

We spoke to Professor Matt Campbell about his current work. Find out more about EYE-D, the two Fighting Blindness-funded projects and Professor Matt Campbell below.

1. What are the overall aims of EYE-D project?
2. What specific work is Fighting Blindness funding in Project A?
3. What specific work is Fighting Blindness funding in Project B?
4. Why did you get into research and what do you most enjoy about it?
5. Within the next five years, where do you expect great advances to be made in vision research?
6. What are your other interests?
7. Biography

1.     What are the overall aims of the EYE-D project?

The overall aims of the EYE-D project are to identify the underlying causes of some of the most common forms of blindness.  While we can clinically identify a given eye disease efficiently, unfortunately, the underlying molecular cause of some common diseases like age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy (DR) are still far from clear.  Even with inherited eye diseases like Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) where we know the genetic cause, it is unrealistic that we can develop a gene therapy to treat every single genetic eye disease.

You can click here or view below the Tweet from Science Foundation Ireland about the co-funding of the EYE-D project. 

So, we (co-PI Dr Sarah Doyle and collaborator Dr Mark Cahill) came up with an idea to spend 4 years intensively investigating the molecular cause of these eye diseases.  We are using the most advanced genetic tools to tease apart the molecules that are driving the disease process.  Once this is completed, we hope to have a large series of new targets that we can then work towards developing specific drugs that can regulate the disease-causing agents and thereby treat a given eye disease.  The EYE-D approach is to engage with drug companies and our collaborators in progressive Vision Research to rapidly work towards developing novel drugs with patients engaged early on in the process.

Headshot of Dr Mark Cahill
Dr Mark Cahill
Headshot of Dr Sarah Doyle
Dr Sarah Doyle

Co-PI Dr Sarah Doyle got recently appointed as Director of Research at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience School of Medicine. She said on the EYE-D project:

This funding will allow us to build on the major successes our group has had in understanding degenerative eye diseases.  Added to this, we can now recruit the most talented group of scientists internationally and place Ireland at the forefront of vision research. – Dr Sarah Doyle

You can read more about the EYE-D project here

 

2.     What specific work is Fighting Blindness funding in Project A?

This project is aimed at examining the blood vessels in the eyes of patients who had geographic atrophy (end stage dry AMD) during their lifetimes and who subsequently donated their eyes to research after they passed away.  We are in a very privileged position to be able to access this donor tissue and make a detailed analysis of the blood vessels in these eyes and whether they contribute in some way to the pathology of AMD.

 

We are also conducting a clinical research project whereby we take detailed photographs of the retinas of patients living with AMD.  We then correlate our findings in-life and post-mortem to get the clearest picture as to what is driving the disease.  A large part of this project also involves the acquisition of a new microscope that will allow us to obtain the most incredible images of the retinas from this donor tissue.

 

Find out more about the research we currently fund at Trinity College Dublin and Prof. Matt Campbell’s lab at the video below:

 

3.     What specific work is Fighting Blindness funding in Project B?

This project is focused on identifying the contribution of the retinal blood vessels to inherited eye diseases such as Retinitis pigmentosa (RP).  While we know the genetic cause of lots of forms of RP and we know the key pathology is the loss of photoreceptor cells, we have a hypothesis that stabilising the blood vessels in the degenerating retina could delay the rate of vision loss.  This project is so exciting as we are working with pre-clinical models of RP that we generated in the lab as well as recruiting patients with RP to participate in a large clinical research study.  Working with Progressive Vision Research, we will be able to examine the integrity of the blood vessels in the retina in RP patients with high resolution imaging.  We will also be able to clearly tell if the blood vessels of the retina are compromised in this condition.  With this information to hand, we will be better able to contemplate how RP could be managed in the future.

 

4.     Why did you get into research and what do you most enjoy about it?

I was always interested in nature and biology in particular.  My first inclination that it was possible to do science as a career was when my older sister Susan started a PhD in Microbiology in Trinity.  I really hadn’t a clue as to the steps required to become a professional scientist, so I was very lucky that I had sight of that.  The saying of “if you can’t see it you can’t be it” certainly applied to me.  My parents were also both teachers and education was always front and centre of my life growing up.  After I completed my degree in Biochemistry, I was given an opportunity to work in a lab under a Fighting Blindness Ireland PhD studentship.  It was through this work that I met Prof Pete Humphries around 2005 and this led to my postdoctoral work in Pete’s lab from 2006 until 2012.  Pete’s support really compounded my commitment to a career in genetics and I learned a huge amount from my time in his lab.

 

I really enjoy the spontaneity of science.  I love the fact that every week brings up new data, new ideas and different experiments.  Nothing really beats the feeling of coming to the realisation that you’ve made an observation that’s completely new to a given field.  I’m in a very privileged position to work with amazing scientists in my own group as well as collaborators and we are making new discoveries with increasing regularity as the team grows.  I also try to work in the lab when I find time and I enjoy helping out with the pre-clinical models we’re developing.  Although it’s been many years since I picked up a pipette! – Prof. Matthew Campbell 

 

5.     Within the next five years, where do you expect great advances to be made in vision research?

I believe the whole area of therapeutics for geographic atrophy secondary to dry AMD is going to blossom.  From biologics to small molecules, I see AMD being controlled by a whole plethora of drugs and combinations thereof.  Much like the agents used to treat heart disease I can see a polypharmacy/clinical management based approach to preventing vision loss for patients in the coming years.  I also hope that a gene therapy can be developed for a more common condition like AMD or glaucoma and while this might not happen in 5 years, I think it’s on the horizon.

 

6.     What are your other interests?

I enjoy playing tennis (poorly) as well as running (slowly) and cycling (to and from work).  While science is often all-consuming, I’m also kept busy with my two children Calum (12) and Olivia (10) who are both heavily involved in sporting activities during the week and at weekends.

 

7.     Biography

I am Professor in Genetics and Head of Department at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics in Trinity College Dublin. I’m originally from Dublin and graduated with a degree in Biochemistry from UCD in 2002 and went on to complete a PhD in 2006 at the same institution focused on understanding the role of the blood retina barrier in the degenerating retina. In the same year, I moved to Trinity College and conducted postdoctoral research with Prof Pete Humphries on the role of the blood brain/retina barriers in health and disease. In 2013, I was awarded Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) President of Ireland Young Researcher Award (PIYRA) which allowed me to establish my own research group in TCD. Since then, I have received numerous additional awards for my research which focuses on understanding the role of the so-called blood-brain barrier (BBB) and blood retina barrier (BRB) in healthy and diseased states. In 2020 I was awarded one of Europe’s most prestigious awards from the European Research Council (ERC). In the same year I was elected Science Foundation Ireland’s early career researcher of the year.   I also lead the SFI funded EYE-D programme which is focused on identifying novel therapeutic targets for ocular diseases.  I am also a PI in the SFI funded Centre Future-Neuro.  I am founder and Director of the Neurovascular Genetics Unit at TCD and I have over 20 years of research expertise in the area of blood brain and blood retina barrier biology. I sit on the scientific advisory board of the Moorfields Hospital Charity as well as the UK charity Sight Research UK.

Follow Prof. Matthew Campbell on his Twitter account @mattcampbelltcd to stay in touch with the most recent updates on his work! 

 

Commenting on the announcement of EYE-D, Professor Philip Nolan, Science Foundation Ireland, said:

We are looking forward to working with the researchers and collaborators of EYE-D research project as they work to find solutions to vision loss caused by retinal diseases. The project highlights the impact that the Strategic Partnership Programme can deliver. I welcome the broad partnership involved in supporting this research which includes industry, charities and higher education institutes. – Prof. Philip Nolan

 

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