MERLN researcher

Pere Català Quilis winner Bayer Ophthalmology Research Award

MERLN PhD researcher Pere Català Quilis receives Bayer Ophthalmology Research Award (BORA) for his project 'Understanding the corneal endothelium, one cell at a time', worth nearly €25K. 

The BORA is intended for researchers working in the ophthalmology field. He’s jointly supervised by the Maastricht UMC+ department of Ophthalmology and MERLN and is working on the EyeSciTe project.

About the project

Corneal endothelial disease causes corneal edema and opacity, impairing sight. The gold standard treatment is corneal transplantation, but only one donor cornea is available for every seventy patients in need, and this leaves 12.7 million people worldwide awaiting treatment.

There is a promising cell therapy alternative if corneal endothelial cells from deceased donors can be isolated and cultured. Nevertheless, this approach has limitations that must first be overcome: the cell cultures are only successful if derived from donors younger than 35 years, cultivating corneal endothelial cells can cause an undesired loss of function, and there is a lack of cellular markers to select clinical grade cells.

We hypothesize that cultivated corneal endothelial cells are highly heterogenous and that evaluation of cultured cells at the single-cell level could identify markers to select clinical-grade cells and improve current culture protocols to obtain more cells from a single donor. With this knowledge, our research has the potential to make this promising cell therapy available to more patients.