Cataract, a clouding of the lens, renders millions blind throughout the world. At present the only means to treat this condition is by surgical intervention. This involves removal of the central cloudy region of the lens and placing an artificial lens into residual collagen lens tissue that is termed the capsular bag. Despite surgical effort, native lens cells survive the rigour of cataract surgery and undergo a wound healing response to surgical trauma known as posterior capsule opacification (PCO). This condition affects the majority of cataract patients with approximately 20%of cases requiring laser surgery to restore sight once more. PCO is characterised by increased growth, fibrotic responses and attempted tissue regeneration, all of which contribute to increased light scatter and visual deterioration. The current project will aim to better understand the mechanisms driving PCO through the development and application of human cell and tissue models. These will include a human lens epithelial cell line (FHL124) as a high throughput tool, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to model lens regeneration/lens organoid formation and the human capsular bag model, which is established by performing cataract surgery on human donor eyes in the lab; this is the best preclinical model of PCO and presents both fibrosis and tissue regeneration features as observed in patients.
The aims of the project are: 1) to further develop and improve the collection of human based experimental models to study PCO; 2) establish the role specific signalling molecules play in growth, fibrosis and regeneration; 3) Develop therapeutic strategies for the prevention of PCO.
In undertaking this PhD project the student will learn human cell and tissue culture, a raft of biochemical and molecular techniques, and gain experience using a range of imaging platforms including scanning electron microscopy, live fluorescence imaging and confocal microscopy.