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    United Kingdom

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PhD projects

Pathogenic mechanisms in diabetic retinopathy and vasodegenerative diseases
Mechanisms of vasopermeability
Pathophysiological mechanisms underpinning retinal angiogenesis
Vascular regeneration and the role of stem cells
Cell therapy for occlusive diseases
Metabolic plasticity and vascular disease

1990 …2023

Research activity per year

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Personal profile

Research Interests

Professor Stitt is internationally known for his research in ophthalmology, particularly in the pathogenesis of diabetic retinopathy and age-related retinal disease. His research efforts established the role of advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) and their receptors in the progression of retinal vascular diseases and his work has uncovered several inter-related pathways involved in neuroglial and microvascular dysfunction in the diabetic and ageing retina. This research has led to the development and testing of several drugs that have progressed to clinical trials in diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular oedema.

With a network of local, national and international collaborative partners, Professor Stitt has pioneered the concept of re-vascularising ischaemic retina. This has revealed a novel therapeutic approach for treating diabetic retinopathy and other retinal disorders. His research has revealed several important mechanisms such as inhibition of pro-inflammatory cytokines (especially TNFα) and the role of erythropoietin in diabetic eye disease, especially from the perspective of vasopermeability and mechanisms of angiogenesis. His role in identifying that EPO-analogues can promote vascular recovery of ischaemic retina whilst preventing neurodegeneration has recently led to a Belfast-based Phase I trial using ARA290 as a novel EPO analogue to reverse diabetic macular oedema. Linked to this regenerative theme, is his work on harnessing the potential of umbilical cord and peripheral blood-derived endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) to re-vascularise the ischaemic retina. In partnership with his colleague Dr Medina, their aligned research groups’ have identified, isolated and characterised a unique progenitor cell-type and proven its vasoreparative properties in vivo. Ongoing research is identifying the unique properties of these cells and their distinct molecular nature that makes them important homeostatic cells that maintain vascular health in the retina and other vascular beds.  A current project is bringing this “cell therapy” to the clinic and the team, consisting of stem cell biologists, medical retina specialists and vitreoretinal surgeons are seeking to translate into clinic as soon as possible. 

His research team consists of several PhD students and post-docs conducting several ongoing projects involving multiple funding streams and local/national/international collaborators:

  1. Harnessing ECFCs to repair choriocapillaris during geographic atrophy
  2. The role of the placental growth factor pathway in age-related retinal disease
  3. Metabolic plasticity of retinal cells in ischaemia and the potential to regulate physiological angiogenesis
  4. Identifying key molecular mechanisms underpinning ECFC dysfunction in diabetic microvascular disease.
  5. Development of vascular stem cell therapy for ischaemic retinopathy
  6. Combinatorial cell therapy for reversing tissue ischaemia
  7. The potential of iPS cell technology to understand mechanisms underpinning patient responsiveness to anti-VEGF agents for diabetic macular oedema
  8. Mechanisms linking vasopermeability in the CNS vasculature during retinal and cerebral malaria
  9. Understanding dysfunction of the retinal and brain neurovascular units in diabetes and dementia  



Professor Stitt is a member of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) and a Fellow of the Association for Research in Vision & Ophthalmology (ARVO).  He has also earned significant prizes including a Royal Society Merit Award, the Sir Jules Thorn Biomedical Science Award, the JDRF Mary Jane Kugel Award and the 5th Fincham Medal in recognition of research on diabetic retinopathy and neovascular events in diabetes. He contributes significantly to the international academic community by serving on advisory boards, grant panels. These include Chair of the grant award panel for Fight for Sight and membership of Diabetes UK research committee and various MRC panels including DPFS.  He also regularly presents guest lectures at meetings and conferences across the world.

He is the Editor-in-Chief for Progress in Retinal & Eye Research (#1 ranked journal in ophthalmology).  He is also an editorial board member for several other ophthalmology and vascular biology journals.


Professor Stitt was appointed to the McCauley Chair of Experimental Ophthalmology in 2001. For over 12 years he was Director of the Centre for Vision & Vascular Science (CVVS) and then the re-configured Centre for Experimental Medicine. He is now Dean of Innovation and Impact within the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences (MHLS) in which he promotes academic-commercialization partnerships and a culture of entrepreneurship. In this role he leads the MRC Innovation Accelerator Account (IAA) which encompases Confidence in Concept (CiC) awards to  provide seed-corn funding for researchers to develop their ideas for commercialization and industry engagement. Also in this Deans role he leads the development of the Core Technology Units (CTUs), MHLS Technician Commitment and oversees the PG Research programme.   He also leads the Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) for QUB which is focused on providing a range of funding streams relating to ophthalmology and respiratory disease. There is also a strong research public engagement aspect which seeks to provide faculty-wide opportunities for researchers to develop broader and deeper impact outcomes for their research.  

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being


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