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Detecting Diseases Through Retinal Imaging

The University’s School of Computer Science has a strong track record in retinal image processing, having developed techniques to support automated diagnosis of retinal diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, which can eventually lead to blindness, and new model-based methods for vascular segmentation (image processing of the blood vessels).

The impact of this research is acknowledged by the fact the University is leading a 3.8 million Euro project which aims to combat some of the EU’s most prevalent chronic medical conditions.

The Retinal Vascular Modelling, Measurement and Diagnosis (REVAMMAD) project, coordinated by Professor Andrew Hunter, Pro Vice Chancellor and Head of College of Science, aims to train a new generation of interdisciplinary scientists for the academic, clinical and industrial sectors, and to trigger a new wave of biomedical interventions.

Funded by the European Union's 7th Framework (FP7) Marie Curie Initial Training Network programme, PhD students will be trained by some of the EU’s leading academics and practitioners to further advances in diagnosis, prognosis and prevention of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke and coronary heart disease and retinal diseases. 

The vasculature plays a key role in chronic medical conditions that account for an increasing proportion of EU member state healthcare costs, including Alzheimer’s, diabetes, stroke and coronary heart disease.

"The work we do is important, because 50% of deaths are the result of chronic vascular conditions. So any methods that can improve diagnosis and monitoring treatment of vascular disease are incredibly important."

The University of Lincoln team will specifically develop retinal imaging and measurement training and research.

Part of the REVAMMAD research involves investigating new methods for the early screening and diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy in the hope of improving prevention and treatment of this major cause of blindness.

Diabetes affects the structure of the vessel walls, making them stiffer. At an advanced point this causes them to break, creating haemorrhages and micro aneurysms, which are the first stages of diabetic retinopathy

The researchers are investigating the effects of diabetes on the retina’s vessel walls and how this ultimately affects the flow of blood in the whole vasculature of the retina.

Their efforts focus on analysing images of diabetic patients before the first stage of diabetic retinopathy to see what changes diabetes causes to the retina vessels and how these changes progress to retinopathy.

Further research into measuring subtle changes in this area will enable the risk of conditions developing to be detected and tracked non-invasively through routine procedures such as standard eye tests at opticians.

Along with partners in the UK, France, Germany, Denmark, Italy and Greece, the REVAMMAD project will create a cohort of young researchers able to effectively translate the latest vascular modelling theory and computerised image analysis techniques into effective disease interventions.

Professor Hunter has published over 80 academic papers, including more than 20 in international journals. He has also developed several freeware and commercial artificial intelligence software packages.