Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast have been awarded a European Union (Horizon 2020) grant to co-lead the RECOGNISED project, together with Professor Rafael Simo, from Vall d’Hebron University Hospital in Spain.

The research will determine how the retina can be used as a tool to identify and predict cognitive impairment and dementia in people with type 2 diabetes.

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 approximately a two-fold higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) when 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.

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, 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.

“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.”

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.

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