A novel pathway regulating adipogenesis in Thyroid Eye Disease: characterisation of spontaneous lipogenesis and validation of novel therapeutic targets

Principal Investigator Dr Maryse Bailly
Dr Bailly is a Reader in Cell Biology at UCL and leads the “Tissue contraction, scarring and mechanoregulation” research lab at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology
PhD student Dr I-Hui Yang
Dr I-Hui Yang is an ophthalmologist and oculoplastic surgeon from Taiwan, who came to do a PhD in Dr Bailly’s lab in May 2015, with a prestigious bursary from the Kaohsung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital (Taiwan).

Principal investigator, Dr Maryse Bailly from University College London, provides a summary of her findings.

What was the aim of the research?

TED is characterised by the inflammation and swelling of the orbital tissues and orbit fat. This swelling pushes the eyeball forward and causes the eyelids to retract. This causes symptoms, such as ‘dry eyes’, double vision, corneal damage and disrupting eye movements. Most of the swelling in TED results from an expansion of the fat behind the eyeball as local cells, called fibroblasts, turn into fat cells. To aid prevention and treatment of TED, we wanted to better understand why and how those cells change in TED.

What has your research found out?

We focussed on trying to understand how these fibroblasts turn into fat in TED. Our initial laboratory work showed that fibroblasts in TED can make fat from sugars and/or absorb fat directly into circulation. However, they turned out to be only marginally better at doing so than normal orbital fibroblasts. We have now identified a protein called perilipin2, which may be behind the TED fibroblasts’ ability to turn into fat cells. This protein is found at higher levels in TED fibroblasts compared with non-diseased ones.

What will this mean for treatment of thyroid eye disease in the future?

We believe perilipin2 is a potential new marker for TED and its progression. This could make a significant difference to how the disease is approached and treated.

How has the Fight for Sight BTF Award helped you?

The funding has proved crucial for us, enabling us to expand our work on thyroid eye disease, a lesser known and yet no less devastating sight ailment.

See the Fight for Sight website for more information about this research.