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The NIHR is the nation's largest funder of health and care research and provides the people, facilities and technology that enable research to thrive. We work in partnership with the NHS, universities, local government, other research funders (including industry and charities), patients and the public to improve the health and wealth of the nation.   

The NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) supported 200 studies on ophthalmology, 60 of which were new studies, and recruited 18,931 patients to studies last year (2019/20).

Stem cell treatment to restore vision on wet age-related macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of sight loss in the developed world, affecting more than 600,000 people in the UK. Wet age-related macular degeneration develops when abnormal blood vessels grow into the retinal pigment epithelium, which separates blood vessels from the nerve layer in the eye and nourishes the retina.

Researchers supported by the NIHR Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre have developed new treatment that repairs damaged retinas using tissue created by stem cells has successfully restored sight in people with wet age-related macular degeneration.

Two patients, a woman in her early 60s and a man in his 80s, regained reading vision after being the first to receive retinal tissue engineered from stem cells.

A retinal implant system, or ‘bionic eye’, for restoring sight

The Argus II system is an artificial implant, or ‘bionic eye’, that uses wireless signals from a camera worn by the user to stimulate an array of electrodes placed directly onto the surface of a patient’s retina. Argus II was the first device of its kind to be approved to induce visual perception, and therefore restore a degree of sight, in patients with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare hereditary disease that causes progressive damage to the light-sensitive cells in the retina and, ultimately, complete blindness.

A group at the Manchester Vision Regeneration Laboratory, supported by the NIHR Manchester Clinical Research Facility, set out to expand use of the Argus II system by trialling its use in a more common form of retinal disease, namely, ‘dry’ age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of blindness in the Western world.

In July 2015, the first participant in the Manchester research study received the Argus II implant, and thus became the first patient with dry AMD to combine artificial and natural vision using a retinal prosthesis.

World’s first robot-assisted eye operation

Although robot assisted surgery is common, until now it has not been used inside the eye.  This is because of the challenges in developing a robot small enough but still able to operate with the precision required.

Surgeons supported by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre performed the world’s first robot-assisted eye operation. In the Robotic Retinal Dissection Device (R2D2) trial, surgeons used a remotely controlled robot to lift a membrane a 100th of a millimetre thick from the retina and restore the patient’s sight.

The study was designed as a proof of concept trial, in which 12 people will undergo procedures of increasing complexity. The aim of the trial is to establish whether the robot can deliver what a surgeon is able to, but with greater accuracy.

Find an ophthalmology study in your area

You can find out more about ophthalmology studies in your area through the Be Part of Research website.

The NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) provides researchers with the practical support they need to make clinical studies happen in the NHS. This support covers every stage of research, from set up to delivery.

We provide world-class health service infrastructure - research support staff such as clinical research nurses, and research support services such as pharmacy, pathology and radiology - to support organisations seeking to conduct clinical research in the NHS in England. Some of this research is funded by the NIHR, but most of it is funded by NHS non-commercial partners and industry.

We support the set up and delivery of clinical research in the NHS through our Study Support Service and our Research Design Service helps researchers develop proposals to secure funding from our research programmes.

The Ophthalmology Specialty is one of 31 specialties which bring together communities of clinical practice to provide national networks of research expertise. It is made up of research-interested clinicians and practitioners at both national and local levels. Our job is to ensure that the ophthalmology studies that are included in our national portfolio of clinical research receive the right support to ensure they are delivered successfully in the NHS.

We oversee research that deals with both the medical and the surgical treatment of eye diseases, as well as optometry and visual rehabilitation and other key areas within the broader discipline of vision sciences. This means that we support a wide range of research studies such as those involving medicines and devices for diseases of the eye, those investigating childhood and inherited visual disorders, and studies of aids to help people with visual impairment.

Ophthalmology Specialty Clinical Leads

The Clinical Research Network is made up of 15 localities. Each one has at least one nominated local lead for ophthalmology research. These clinicians lead research groups to promote and support ophthalmology research within the NHS trusts in their area.

At a national level the local leads come together to manage the national ophthalmology clinical research portfolio. This involves regularly reviewing the progress of studies, identifying barriers to recruitment, and coming up with solutions and strategies to help overcome those barriers.

UK-wide Ophthalmology Clinical Research Strategy

The CRN Ophthalmology specialty has developed a UK-wide Ophthalmology Clinical Research Strategy, to help tailor research to meet the demand ophthalmology is placing on outpatient departments, explore areas of unmet need in the population, and facilitate a non-commercial and commercial ‘research pipeline’ of therapies and technologies. Read more

Specialty Profile

Learn more about NIHR Ophthalmology in our specialty profile.

We are working with stakeholders including the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, funders of eye research, and patient support organisations such as the Royal National Institute for the Blind) to promote the successful delivery of research studies in the NHS.

Royal College of Physicians (RCP)

Since its inception in 2006, the NIHR has significantly increased the scale of clinical research in the NHS, particularly through the NIHR Clinical Research Network. The enthusiastic engagement of NHS physicians and trainees is essential for sustaining and building on this success, particularly given the many competing demands on clinician time and resources.

Find out more about the RCP 


Fight for Sight

Fight for Sight is a leading UK charity dedicated to stopping sight loss through pioneering research. They want to create a future everyone can see.

Find out more about Fight for Sight

Macular Society

Macular Disease is the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK. The Macular Society aims to fund more research into this condition with a vision to eventually find a cure or effective treatment to end Macular Disease. 

Find out more about the Macular Society

Royal National Institute of Blind People

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is one of the UK's leading sight loss charities and the largest community of blind and partially sighted people. They want society, communities and individuals to see differently about sight loss.

Find out more about the RNIB

The NIHR provides the support and facilities the NHS needs for first-class research by funding a range of infrastructure.

NIHR Biomedical Research Centres

NIHR Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs), partnerships between England’s leading NHS organisations and universities, conduct translational research to transform scientific breakthroughs into life-saving treatments. The following BRC undertakes research in ophthalmology:

Work with our infrastructure

All of the NIHR facilities and centres are opening to working with the public, charities, industry and other partners. If you are interested in collaborating with the NIHR please contact the NIHR Office for Clinical Research infrastructure: 

Our experts in the NIHR Clinical Research Network (National Specialty Leads) can advise on delivering your ophthalmology study in the NHS.

Professor Rupert Bourne

Professor Rupert Bourne is the NIHR Clinical Research Network National Specialty Lead for Ophthalmology.

Professor Bourne is Professor of Ophthalmology at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, and Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at Cambridge University Hospital. Rupert trained at Moorfields Eye Hospital and undertook two Glaucoma fellowships, one there and another at the Shiley Eye Centre/Hamilton Glaucoma Center in San Diego, California. He has a strong research interest, particularly in advanced techniques of Glaucoma diagnosis and progression and the management of Glaucoma in the community, along with overseas ophthalmology which has involved design and analysis of several large population-based surveys of eye disease, several national in scope, eg. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Trinidad.

Professor Bourne is the Chair of the National Institute for Health Research Ophthalmology Specialty Group, responsible for NHS research delivery, and is passionate about research touching every part of the patient care pathway. He has published more than 170 papers in leading peer-reviewed ophthalmic journals and book chapters and is an invited reviewer for many leading ophthalmology journals, with other research interests in altitude ophthalmology and expedition medicine.

In his role as Coordinator of the Vision Loss Expert Group of the Global Burden of Disease Study, he has overseen the long-term research into the world-wide prevalence rates of blindness and visual impairment, in partnership with the World Health Organization.


Related Specialties


Children and Young People

Dementias and Neurodegeneration


Genomics and Rare Diseases

Metabolic and Endocrine Disorders

Neurological Disorders