Health Foundation clinician scientist fellow Dr Robert MacLaren has made significant breakthroughs in tackling the most common cause of blindness in the developed world, previously thought to be incurable.

Age-related macular degenerationis characterised by the gradual breakdown of the detailed vision needed for reading, driving and recognising faces. As the population ages, the disease will inevitably become more widespread and is predicted to increase in prevalence threefold from 2000-25.

Dr MacLaren's work involves the transplantation of light sensitive photoreceptor cells to replace the cells that are damaged and destroyed in the end stages of macular degeneration. He is also looking at optimising surgical techniques to replace the lining of the back of the eye, the retinal pigment epithelium, using healthy retinal pigment epithelium from around the edges of the eye.

Dr MacLaren said: 'If you stop someone in the street and ask them which conditions they fear, in general it will be cancer first and blindness second.

'Having a fall is the most common cause of acute admissions for elderly people and if you think that half of those are due to poor eyesight, that gives you an idea of what we're up against.'

Bullding on the success of Dr MacLaren's work supported by the Health Foundation, he has been given£3.6m in additional funding from the National Institute of Medical Research and two project grants from the Medical Research Council totalling£2.5m, enabling him to take his research even further.

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