The eye as a window to the brain: new EU initiative launched

28 February 2020

An important EU-funded project has been launched to explore the biological pathways that may link the alterations observed in the retina with those present in the brain in people with type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is known to be an independent risk factor for developing cognitive impairment and dementia, with studies showing that people living with the condition have a two-fold higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease when compared to the general population. Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease that leads to the progressive loss of brain cells, which causes cognitive decline and, eventually, dementia. People with cognitive impairment are more prone to have impaired diabetes self-management, poor glycaemic control and an increased incidence of diabetes-related complications, which presents significant challenges both for individuals and healthcare systems on how best to manage diabetes care.

The four-year RECOGNISED project will study the biological mechanisms that cause structural and functional alterations in the retina in people with type 2 diabetes, to determine whether these same pathways play a role in the events observed in the brain during the development of cognitive impairment and dementia. Importantly, RECOGNISED will reveal whether evaluating the retina, easily accessible with current non-invasive technologies, could help in identifying earlier cognitive impairment in people with type 2 diabetes, so that appropriate support can be given.

RECOGNISED will also analyse previously-collected data and samples from registries, cohorts and biobanks. By gaining knowledge on the mechanisms of disease, the project will help to identify new potential therapeutic interventions.

RECOGNISED brings together 21 partners from nine different countries, including academic institutions, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), the European infrastructure for translational medicine (EATRIS) and patient organisations, with complementary knowledge and expertise.

RECOGNISED will receive almost €6 million in funding from the EU Horizon 2020 with the final goal of improving the quality of life of people living with diabetes. Basic scientists and clinicians with extensive expertise in diabetes, ophthalmology and neurology will use state-or-the-art technologies to undertake the experimental and clinical studies that form part of this ambitious project.

The IDF European Region (IDF Europe) leads Work Package 9 (WP 9) – Communication Activities – alongside Queen’s University Belfast and Alzheimer Europe. WP 9 will seek to raise visibility of the project and its potential impact among all key stakeholders.