Ocular Diseases

Ocular Diseases

The Tissue Engineering & Stem Cell Research programme is involved in research on ocular diseases. The cornea is the transparent dome on the front of the eye that covers the iris (the coloured part of the eye) and the pupil. This transparent dome acts like a window, protecting the iris and the light-detecting retina from dust and germs of the external environment and removing some of the most damaging ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths in sunlight. The cornea also acts as the outermost lens of the eye and is responsible for focusing 65-75% of the light entering the eye. Hence any damage to the cornea resulting in scarring can lead to a reduction in vision or blindness. In fact, damaged or diseased corneas are a major reason for blindness worldwide.

Stem cells and tissue engineering techniques offer exciting new treatment options to patients with ocular diseases. Stem cell populations have been identified in a number of adult tissues such as skeletal muscle, skin and intestine. The function of these adult stem cells is to replenish cells lost in normal and damaged tissue. The NICB has an active research program investigating the use of limbal stem cells, the stem cells of the corneal epithelium, as a therapy for patients deficient in their own corneal stem cells. Such a deficiency may occur due to chemical and thermal burns, or conditions such as Steven-Johnson syndrome. By developing the techniques to grow and manipulate these limbal stem cells in the laboratory, we can in turn develop potential therapies for the treatment of damaged and diseased corneas. A few centres world-wide have developed methods to culture and transplant adult human limbal stem cells, restoring the vision in 70% of patients. Unfortunately, this is currently not a treatment option for Irish patients. The NICB, in collaboration with clinicians at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital (Mr William Power and Prof. Conor Murphy) and the Irish Blood Transfusion Service / National Eye Bank (Dr. William Murphy) are working to introduce this technique into Ireland for the first time, to improve the treatment of ocular diseases. This research program is further studying ways to improve the way the cells grow and behave in the laboratory. Understanding these mechanisms will improve our ability to manipulate these cells in laboratory. It will also allow us to develop more complex tissue engineering approaches to treat damaged eye surfaces. This work is also likely to provide insights into how other adult stem cells behave and provide improved methods for growing and detecting these cells.

The NICB is also engaged in research in a number of other ocular related diseases such as Fuch's Dystrophy, Ocular Rosacea and Uveal Melanoma 


Finbarr O'Sullivan (finbarr.osullivan@dcu.ie)

Clair Gallagher (clair.gallagher@dcu.ie)

Meet our Stem Cells & Differentiation research group


  • Gallagher, C. et al. (2014) Comparative transcriptomic analysis of cultivated limbal epithelium and donor corneal tissue reveals altered wound healing gene expression. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. (2014). doi:10.1167/iovs.14-14664
  • McMahon, F. W. et al. (2014) Exposure of a corneal epithelial cell line (hTCEpi) to Demodex-associated Bacillus proteins results in an inflammatory response. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 55, 7019–28 (2014).
  • O’Reilly, N. et al. (2012) Demodex-associated Bacillus proteins induce an aberrant wound healing response in a corneal epithelial cell line: possible implications for corneal ulcer formation in ocular rosacea. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 53, 3250–3259 (2012).
  • O’Sullivan, F. & Clynes, M. (2007) Limbal stem cells, a review of their identification and culture for clinical use. Cytotechnology 53, 101–106 (2007).



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