The eye as a window to the brain – RECOGNISED project

“The eye as a window to the brain” – new European initiative, RECOGNISED, will determine the usefulness of the retina as a tool for identifying people with type 2 diabetes and cognitive impairment

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 (T2D).

Type 2 diabetes is known to be an independent risk factor for developing cognitive impairment and dementia, with studies showing that people living with T2D have a two-fold higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) when compared to the general population. AD 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 long 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 T2D, 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, RECOGNISED 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 towards this programme with the final goal of improving the quality of life of people living with diabetes. In RECOGNISED, 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.

Project Coordinator: Professor Rafael Simó, Vall d’Hebron Research Institute, Barcelona (Spain)

Project Partners: Queen’s University Belfast (UK), AIBILI (Portugal), Utrecht University Medical Center (Netherlands), Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam (Netherlands), Tor Vergata University of Rome (Italy), San Raffaele University Hospital (Italy), University of Milan (Italy), University of Southern Denmark (Denmark), University Hospital Trust, Charity of Novara (Italy), Fundacio Assistencial de Mutua de Terrassa (Spain), Catalan Health Institute (Spain), University of Montenegro (Montenegro), Clinical Center of Montenegro (Montenegro), University of Cadiz (Spain), EATRIS (Netherlands), Alzheimer Europe (Luxembourg), IDF-Europe (Belgium), Anaxomics Biotech (Spain), Oxurion (Belgium), Genesis Biomed (Spain), Vall d’Hebron Research Institute, Barcelona (Spain).

This project receives funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 847749. This material reflects only the authors’ views, and the Commission is not liable for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

Conference paper presentation: IT2020

Project DEMONSTRATE was featured in the scientific paper “Box-counting method for fractal analysis of biomedical images” that was presented at the IEEE 24th International conference on Information Technology, IT2020 on 20. February, 2020. The paper discussed an implementation of a software library for fractal analysis aimed at quantification of complexity of microvascular network in human retina. The software calculates box-counting fractal dimension that can be used as a potential biomarker of various diseases. This research effort demonstrated that the use of this software module offers a very good flexibility in performing in silico experiments with digital images of retina and possibly other biomedical images. More info at: link.

Soon to be available through IEEE Xplore Library
At the IT2020 paper presentation session

Visiting lecture by dr Stela Vujosevic, MD, PhD

On December 20th, the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Montenegro was honored to host two invited lectures by Dr. Stela Vujošević, the expert adviser on the project DEMONSTRATE, from the Medical Center for Retina Diseases at the University Hospital “Maggiore della Caritá” in Novara, Italy.

The lectures were titled:

  1. Recent developments in the treatment of degenerative and vascular maculopathies
  2. Application of non-invasive “imaging” biomarkers in the treatment of diabetic macular edema: the concept of precision medicine

This visit was organised by the Faculty of Medicine Vice Dean for Science and funded by the Ministry of Science of Montenegro, through the program of Guest Lecturers. The purpose of this program is to engage prominent scientists, university professors or entrepreneurs from the world to deliver intensive courses for students and / or scientific and academic staff at universities in our country, in the areas that are identified as a priority for the Smart Specialization Strategy.

(image: N.P.)

Successful HORIZON 2020 grant application

The networking and collaboration established though the DEMONSTRATE project resulted in achieving a milestone in the area of sustainability and increasing the visibility of Montenegrin institutions in the field of medical research in the world.

The Faculty of Medicine of the University of Montenegro and the Clinical Center of Montenegro won the HORIZON 2020 grant as partner institutions on the project titled Unravelling the common pathways and identifying patients at risk for dementia – RECOGNISED. This is a multinational project involving 21 research institutions and teaching hospitals from Europe that are leaders in the field of research related to Alzheimer’s dementia and diabetes. The coordinating organization is Fundacio Hospital Universitari Vall D’Hebron/ Institut de Recerca (VHIR).

The goal of this project is to evaluate patients with diabetes type 2 who are at increased risk developing dementia based on microvascular or neurodegenerative changes we observe on the retina. This 4-year project will start on January 1st 2020. More information on the project is available at the following link.

(image: EC Horizion 2020)

Journal paper publication: Scientific Reports

A scientific paper named “Regional Patterns in Retinal Microvascular Network Geometry in Health and Disease” (authored by N. Popovic, S. Vujošević, and T. Popovic) has been published in the Scientific Reports on November 8th 2019. This work is a result of a collaboration of scientists from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Montenegro, the Faculty for Information Systems and Technologijes, University of Donja Gorica from Podgorica and the Eye Clinic, University Hospital “Maggiore della Caritá” from Novara, Italy. This research was conducted to develop a methodological approach that will also be used to analyze the fundus photographs that we will collect through the DEMONSTRATE project. More information at the following link.

Click on image to read the paper

Semi-Annual Progress Meeting

On October 2nd, the Faculty of Medicine in Podgorica hosted the semi-annual meeting for the project “New methods for risk stratification for the progression of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease in patients in Montenegro – DEMONSTRATE”. In addition to the team members from the Clinical Center of Montenegro from Non-governmental Organization Futura, the members of the Institute of Biomembranes, Bioenergetics and Molecular Biotechnology from Bari and an external expert from University Hospital Maggiore della Carita’ from Novara, Italy, participated in the meeting.

Semi-annual Progress Meeting for DEMONSTRATE project in Podgorica

International conference in Vrnjacka Banja, Serbia

Participation at an international conference: 6th Meeting of the European Section of the International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences (IACS) in Vrnjacka Banja, Serbia. A poster entitled “Quantitative Assessment of Microvascular Network Morphology and Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetic Retinopathy” authored by M. Lipovac and N. Popović from the Faculty of Medicine in Podgorica, was presented on September 13, 2019. This research was conducted to develop a methodological approach that will also be used to analyze the fundus photographs that we will collect through the DEMONSTRATE project. More about the conference at the following link.

Poster presented in Vrnjacka Banja, September 2019

Fundus camera training by ULMA

ULMA Embedded Solutions organized an online training session for DEMONSTRATE team members on how to operate new hand-held digital fundus camera.

Learning steps on installation and configuring of new hand-held fundus camera.
Setting up the camera and getting familiar with its features.

Collaboration with ULMA Embedded Solutions

The Cooperation agreement between the Faculty of medicine, University of Montenegro, and the company “ULMA Embedded Solutions” was signed in the context of DEMONSTRATE project with the aim of encouraging and supporting research, scientific and educational activities. “ULMA Embedded Solutions” is a company from Spain founded in 2009 in the ULMA Group business incubator with intentions to offer specialized services beyond electronic systems functional prototyping. They provide specialized engineering services along the whole electronic product lifecycle, from the concept to manufacturing and maintenance, including design, development and test phases. Namely, of the interest for DEMONSTRATE project, the company is working on various projects in health domain. One especially interesting project that DEMONSTRATE team already collaborated on is H2020 RETINAL that focuses on non-invasive and cost-effective tools for early detection of eye-related diseases using digital images of retina.

RETINAL – Prevention and Early Detection of Eye-related Diseases

Montenegrin Acedemy of Sciences and Arts

The Montenegrin Academy of Sciences and Arts, the Committee on Information and Communication Technologies, organized the 2nd Scientific Conference “Information and Communication Technologies – Condition and Perspectives”, which took place at the CANU on June 10, 2019. The presentation titled “IT Megatrends and the World Around Us” included introduction to Montenegrin project with interdisciplinary components and applied computer science. DEMONSTRATE project was discussed as well. You can see the program by clicking here.

DEMONSTRATE project featured in the presentation at the Academy