University honour for Sunderland Consultant helping to find cures for blindness

A leading Sunderland ophthalmologist involved in revolutionary research which could cure some of the causes of blindness has been awarded an academic honour by Newcastle University.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 17 July, 2019, 16:45
David Steel, a Consultant Ophthalmologist at Sunderland Eye Infirmary

Mr David Steel, a Consultant Ophthalmologist at Sunderland Eye Infirmary, has worked with the Stem Cell Research group at Newcastle University’s Institute of Genetic Medicine for 10 years. In recognition of his high level of achievement, he has now been given apersonal chair at Newcastle University as Professor of Retinal Surgery.

David and his research colleagues use induced pluripotent stem cell technology, which involves taking skin cells from a person’s arm, turning them into stem cells and then growing them into a lab-made retina.

He explained: “Using this amazing technology to create mini retinas in the laboratory, we have been able to investigate the causes of many retinal diseases and test new treatments, and to test drugs for toxicity with the aim of reducing the need for animal testing. In the future, hopefully, we will be able to use the mini retinas to produce retinal cells that we can transplant to treat patients with currently irreversible blindness.”

He has taken part in research throughout his career but became more involved with Newcastle University and the Stem Cell Research team, led by Professor Linda Lako, in 2009.

“Linda was giving a talk on corneal regeneration with stem cells and we discussed together how to extend this work to retina: a fascinating tissue to study with great potential applications for the treatment of many blinding retinal disorders,” he said.

“Consequently, over the last 10 years we have received a succession of grants based around retina and stem cells, with a variety of themes. I am excited to be working with world-class scientists at Newcastle University on a range of projects that I hope will one day go some way to curing some of the causes of blindness. The rate of progress in the field is rapid and trials are starting, although we will not know if they are successful for several years.”

David is also working on a wide range of other projects related to clinical retinal disease, stimulated by his own practice.

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He said: “There are many conditions that we can now treat that I could not treat when I was first appointed as a Consultant Ophthalmologist at Sunderland Eye Infirmary 20 years ago - most notably wet age-related macular degeneration, a common condition affecting the middle part of people’s vision, usually starting in their 50s and 60s.

“However, I still see many patients on a day-to-day basis for whom I would like to do more. The only way my colleagues and I can continue to make medical advances in a reliable and consistent way is through good quality research.”

Melanie Johnson, South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust’s Executive Director of Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professionals and Executive Lead for Research and Innovation, said: “I am delighted that David has been given this well-deserved honour by Newcastle University.

“The research work with which he is involved is truly remarkable and is bringing hope to so many people affected by blindness. We are very fortunate that he has chosen to work at Sunderland Eye Infirmary, where he has made such a difference to the lives of patients locally and further afield, and continues to do so.”

Linda Lako, a Professor of Stem Cell Science, said: “We are delighted to hear of this award. David brings the patient voice and needs to our research, ensuring we align our exciting research with therapies that are needed for the treatment of blindness.”

Born in North Shields, David graduated in Medicine at Newcastle University in 1989. He worked at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle and the old Sunderland Royal Infirmary before doing Senior House Officer training at Sunderland Eye Infirmary and Newcastle General Hospital. He moved to Bristol and the South West for registrar and senior registrar posts, followed by sub speciality training in retinal surgery in Melbourne, Australia, before returning to Sunderland Eye Infirmary as a Consultant Ophthalmologist in 1999.

He said: “I am delighted to be awarded a personal chair at Newcastle University as Professor of Retinal Surgery but will continue my clinical work at Sunderland as before. The Eye Infirmary is a fantastic place to work, with a real family culture. Everyone is very proud of the place and I, in turn, am very proud to work there.”