This week we are taking a sneak peek into the visionary world of Dr. Chloe Thomas (@cnthomas1994). Chloe is a Post Doc based within the Neuroscience and Ophthalmology group and Institute of Clinical Sciences at University of Birmingham in the UK. Her post-doctoral research is to develop an eye drop to deliver an immunotherapy to the back of the eye to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD). She has recently finished her PhD looking at retinal ganglion cell and optic nerve degeneration in traumatic eye injuries. We asked Chloe to tell us a little about what made her see the light (of science).
Tell us a bit about how you got to be in vision research!
During my final year of studying Biomedical Science I took modules in neuroscience and became really interested in how the the brain works and what happens if it is injured. Cells in the central nervous system (the brain, spinal cord and retina) do not repair after injury, which means that damage to the brain, spinal cord or eye can have devastating long-lasting effects such as brain injury, paralysis and blindness. I started a PhD in eye injury, looking at the retina and optic nerve, which are extension of the CNS and have similar properties.
I have stayed in science and vision research because I enjoy constantly learning new things about the eye and why eye cells can become dysfunctional and cause disease. I have enjoyed the freedom of being able to build upon my ideas and am driven by the opportunity to make a difference, however big or small, to patients lives.
And what do you work on now?
For my PhD project I have been studying retinal ganglion cell (RGC) death and optic nerve degeneration in traumatic eye injuries. Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are neuronal cells in the retina, which is the light sensing membrane at the back of the eye. RGCs relay electrical signals from the eye to the brain via their axons which form the optic nerve. RGCs are post mitotic, which means that they do not divide and produce more cells. This means if they are injured and die then they are not replaced. Injury to RGCs or to the optic nerve can lead to irreversible blindness. Injuries can be caused by car accidents, sport or during an explosion in wars or terrorist attacks (which could injure military or civilians). I have been researching why retinal cells die and developing treatments to help preserve RGCs and the ON, with the aim to help preserve vision. Interestingly, this project gave me some experience with drug delivery into the eye and as a post-doc, I have continued in this line of research, but am looking at ways to deliver drugs to the retina for treatment of a different retinal disease called Age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
In my post-doc project, I am developing ways to deliver immunotherapies to the back of the eye to help treat patients with AMD. AMD is a progressive disease which affects the retina and causes loss of central vision. Currently, patients with certain types of AMD are treated with monthly injections into the eye of anti-VEGF therapy. Other types of AMD have no treatments available. Injections into the eye aren’t very pleasant for the patients, are costly for the healthcare service and can have some risks. My research aims to deliver treatments through an eye drop, which has the same effectiveness as the current treatment but a nicer delivery method which can be applied at home rather than in a clinic.
What do you like about your work?
I enjoy scientific research because every day is different, you are constantly learning and being challenged and are working towards solving really important questions which could have a huge impact. I would really like to be able to make a difference to patients lives.
What keeps you motivated?
Vision is arguably one of the most important senses. Traumatic eye injuries can occur in road traffic accidents, sports injuries or during an explosive blast at war or during terrorist attacks. There are currently no effective treatments for some eye injuries, therefore, our research is important to try and see what is happening in the eye and to test therapeutics to help prevent sight loss.
Most people will know somebody with AMD. It is the most common cause of sight loss in the developed world and the third most common cause of vision loss globally. In the UK, there are 600,000 people with sight loss caused by AMD and 70,000 new cases every year. AMD is estimated to cost in excess of £1.6 billion to the UK each year. The numbers of patients is rising, with an expected 1.3 million AMD patients by 2050, which will also have further economic costs.
(You can read more info from the Macular Society here: https://www.macularsociety.org/sites/default/files/downloads/AMD%20Collaborating%20to%20find%20a%20cure%20Accessible%20FINAL.pdf)
What other exciting ventures are you a part of?
I have recently been accepted onto a Science Communication Training Fellowship with the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO). It involves a year long programme of training how to communicate science, for example through news articles, social media and public engagement events.
Please welcome Chloe to Real Scientists!