Published on 14 October 2020

European study grant to Queen’s University Belfast researchers.

A new research study has been launched to determine how the retina could be used as a tool to identify and predict cognitive impairment and dementia in people living with type 2 diabetes.

A European Union (Horizon 2020) study grant has been awarded to researchers from Queen’s University Belfast to co-lead the RECOGNISED project, in partnership with Professor Rafael Simo, from Vall d’Hebron University Hospital in Spain.

Type 2 diabetes is known to be an independent risk factor for developing cognitive impairment and dementia later in life, with studies showing that people living with type 2 diabetes have a twice as high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, compared to the general population.

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that leads to the progressive loss of brain cells, which causes cognitive decline and, eventually, dementia.

Researchers will look into the retina of people with type 2 diabetes for clues about additional health complications

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.

Lead researcher from Queen’s University, Professor Noemi Lois, Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology from the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine, and co-lead of the RECOGNISED consortium, said: “Our research project aims to discover whether evaluating the retina could help us to identify earlier cognitive impairment in people with type 2 diabetes so that support can be given timely to patients.

“Importantly, this study will help us to understand better the mechanisms of cognitive decline in people with type 2 diabetes, which is required for the development of new treatments.”

Professor Alan Stitt of Queen's University Belfast is a former DRWF Research Advisory Board member

Professor Alan Stitt, The McCauley Chair of Experimental Ophthalmology at Queen’s University, who is leading the laboratory-based studies embedded in RECOGNISED, said: “By bringing together experts from across Europe, this project offers the prospect of establishing the cellular and molecular basis for why patients with type 2 diabetes have both retinal disease and a parallel risk of cognitive impairment later in life.”

Professor Stitt, a previously DRWF-funded researcher and former DRWF Research Advisory Board member, added: “Such an understanding of what is happening in both the eyes and the brain will be the foundation for early diagnosis and the development of new treatments that will improve patients’ lives."

The RECOGNISED study project includes 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.

This research project receives funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

Read more about the RECOGNISED study here
Find out more about type 2 diabetes
Read the DRWF leaflet How can diabetes affect my eyes? here
Read Lockdown guidance for staying home and safe for people living with diabetes during Covid-19 pandemic
Read How people with diabetes could become more ill if diagnosed with Covid-19
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