Outreach Article: “Research presents new hope of early diagnosis of major cause of blindness”

Research is under way to develop new techniques for detecting diabetic retinopathy at early onset with the hope of improving prevention and treatment of this major cause of blindness.

Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes, occurring when high blood sugar levels damage the cells in the retina at the back of the eye.

The disease is the most common cause of sight loss in people of working age. It is estimated that in England every year 4,200 people are at risk of blindness caused by diabetic retinopathy, with 1,280 new cases identified annually.

As part of the Retinal Vascular Modelling, Measurement and Diagnosis (REVAMMAD) project led by the University of Lincoln, UK, Marie Curie Researcher Georgios Leontidis is investigating new methods for the early screening and diagnosis of the disease by developing computer models which can detect small changes in the blood vessels of the eye.

Funded by the European Union’s 7th Framework (FP7) Marie Curie Initial Training Network programme, the University of Lincoln has been awarded 900,000 euros from the 3.8 million euro budget to lead the project and to develop retinal imaging and measurement training and research.

It aims to improve diagnosis, prognosis and prevention of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke and coronary heart disease and retinal diseases.

All people with diabetes are at some risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, regardless of whether their condition is controlled by diet, tablets or insulin.

Diabetic retinopathy progresses with time, but may not cause symptoms until it is advanced and close to affecting the retina. The retina is a light-sensitive layer of tissue, lining the inner surface of the eye. The optics of the eye create an image of the visual world on the retina in a similar way to the film in a camera.

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.

Georgios, an Electronics and Computer Engineer within the University of Lincoln’s School of Computer Science, is 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.

He said: “Here at the University of Lincoln, our efforts focus on analysing images of diabetic patients before the first stage of diabetic retinopathy. In that way we want to see what changes diabetes causes to the retina vessels and how these changes progress to retinopathy. We will then try to correlate the standard features we extract from these images with functional changes that occur, such as abnormality in blood pressure, blood flow volume and blood flow velocity, as well as to associate them with some risk factors like age, type of diabetes, duration of diabetes, gender and smoking.”

For more information on the REVAMMAD project, visit the project website revammad.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk   or contact Georgios Leontidis on phone +44(0)1522 886873 or e-mail gleontidis@lincoln.ac.uk







By Georgios Leontidis ESR 3.1


New Year Outreach in Eindhoven, Netherlands

With Earl Grey tea sitting by our sides, steaming, a girls’ night in started quietly in a cozy apartment in southern Eindhoven, Netherlands. Two years having passed since our last get-together, four of us, M.S., F.S., J.W. and me, finally got to gather around again during the New Year holiday of 2014.

We opened up on our own adventures over the past two years to share with each other. My vagabond life of travelling around China seemed to sell itself amazingly which I could see from the sparkling eyes around. My stories finished, M.S. sipped her tea thoughtfully and turned to me asking, softly, ‘Weiwei, I like your story in China very much. Now, can you tell us, after your eventful journey in Tibet, what brought you to Berlin for your Ph.D. project and what exactly your Ph.D. project is about?’

There was silent for a second because I was not quite prepared for these questions broached on New Year’s Day! Having organized my thoughts, I, however, started off.

“I chose to come to Berlin for my Ph.D. project because I want to do a Ph.D. project for the next few years AND I would like to get it done in Europe. Firstly, I have long been a scientific research fan because it never repeats itself and scientific ideas are never the same. I see these attributes as great challenges and would very much like to go to them. Secondly, I like Europe and I hope to gain more insight into its diversity in culture and history alike, and into the convergence of its societies. Well, I guess this could pretty much answer your first question, M.S?”

She flashed me a heartwarming smile and then I continued,

“My Ph.D. project in Berlin is part of the European REVAMMAD project. By the way, REVAMMAD stands for retinal vascular modeling, measurement and diagnosis and my project is about retinal vascular modeling. Generally, retina is a layer lining the inner surface of our eye and the disorders of its vessels can lead to vision impairment to various degrees. Since it is not easy to find out why retinal vessels disfunction using retinal tissues, modeling methods is introduced by default. If we can find out the exact culprit mechanisms for some retinal diseases and take care of them, then our society would benefit a lot from it, especially those suffering now from hypertension and diabetes. See, my work is fascinating, isn’t it? ”

“It sure is!” Almost in unison!

(Because most of us are not comfortable being photographed and I would not chase them around taking pictures either, please excuse the absence of photos for this outreach activity).

Christmas Outreach In Padova

During Christmas holidays I have been back to my hometown, Padova, to spend some time with the family. Padova is also where Jeff Wigdahl has been assigned for his ESR. Jeff could not manage to get back to the USA during this time so we decided to spend Christmas together.

Having been abroad for quite a long time, every time I am back in Italy is a chance to meet all my friends and to update each other on how things are going. However, this time there was a lot to tell as I was back  from Denmark where I just started my ESR and not from the UK where I was working before. Many of my friends just know that I am a bioengineer but do not know exactly what I am doing and they have been asking a lot about it. So Jeff and I decided that we could have organised something to explain what REVAMMAD is about. And that is what we did.

With the promise of food and drink, it was easy to get everyone together.  Despite being the only engineers, the group seemed really interested and was able to follow along as we talked of the REVAMMAD programme and our specific goals within the programme.  As image processors, it is always easier to explain the ideas using images.  The difficulty lies in explaining the same thing to a computer, which we will spend the next three years figuring out.

The meeting was a success and now my friends have a better idea of what I am doing while Jeff also had the chance to meet new people in Padova.

Giovanni Ometto

outreach_revammad1   outreach_revammad2

Early Stage Researcher 3.3: Giovanni Ometto

My name is Giovanni Ometto and  I have recently started my new research job and Phd studentship within the REVAMMAD programme, part of the European Union’s 7th Framework (FP7) Marie Curie Initial Training Network programme. For this project i will be based in Aarhus (Denmark) at the University Hospital.

I am a bioengineer and I graduated at the Department of Bioengineering of the University of Padova, one of the REVAMMAD partners.  During my studies I gradually realised that image processing was the branch of bioengineering I was most interested in, so I made it my specialism. For my MSc final project I worked on wide field images of the retina, as part of a wider project carried out by the Department of Bioengineering.

After graduating I worked in London for a company conducting research into contact lenses and sports vision, and my role was developing and validating new image analysis processes.

My ESR will be supervised by Prof. Toke Bek and my research will focus on the diabetic patients in whom the grader of retinopathy makes a different reccommandation about the following screening interval than a decision model that has been proven to work under some circumstances. The clinics’ experience suggests that the discrepancy between the model and the graders comes from ignoring some information like the distribution of retinal lesions. This is the starting point of my research.

Early Stage Researcher 2.2: Roberto Annunziata

My name is Roberto Annunziata and as Early Stage Researcher 2.2 of this European project, I will cooperate with all the other ESRs from the School of Computing of the University of Dundee, where I hold the position of Marie Curie Research Assistant.

My research interest is focused on image processing and pattern recognition for medical applications and taking part to this challenging project was the best I could ask for researching in this field. My specific role within REVAMMAD is mainly focused on developing software tools for retinal image analysis aiming at helping ophthalmologist to obtain objective measures, instead of a qualitative assessment only. To reach this purpose I will be delighted to be supervised by Professor Emanuele Trucco at the School of Computing (University of Dundee), Dr J.C.B. Jacobsen at the University of Copenhagen, Dr B. Dhillon at the Ninewells Hospital (Dundee) and OPTOS plc, a world leading Scottish company in this field.

In regards to my background, I hold a bachelor in Communications engineering and a Master of Science in Electronics and Communications engineering issued by the University of Siena (Italy) in 2010 and 2012, respectively. My thesis were both focused on image processing and pattern recognition, and the masters’ one concerns automatic retinal vessels identification from a retinal image, which gave me the first insight into the potentiality of this research field. After my graduation, I won a scholarship as Research Assistant in the lab of Image Processing at the University of Siena, where I had the pleasure to continue the research started during my thesis. After attending ARVO, an international conference in Seattle (May 2013), I came up with the idea that this would have been what I really wanted to do in the future: research! 

REVAMMAD was the only project which really matched my needs and my ambition, being a network of young and experienced researchers at the same time. Furthermore, it provides a huge training and gives, really, the possibility to grow up as researcher attending the best conferences in the world in my research fields.

Finally, I am firmly convinced that great ideas can only come from sharing good ideas and REVAMMAD is a great opportunity for sharing these ideas.

1st Revammad Workshop – University of Lincoln

The great thing of participating in a Marie Curie project is the chance that you are given to meet young researchers who have all the motivation to do great things and at the same time some of the most important senior and experienced researchers who work at this field for decades, being eager to share their experiences and knowledge with everybody. 

Such an opportunity we had at our 1st workshop which was held on Lincoln,UK from the 25th of November until 6th of December, hosted by the University of Lincoln, the coordinator of the Revammad project.

It was the first time that all the researchers met together and had the change to get to know each other and speak about the individual projects. The Workshop included many training sessions from partners of the project. The topics that were discussed were Microcirculation and modelling, Retina anatomy and physiology, Diseases like diabetic retinopathy, hypertension, Macular degenaration, retinopathy of prematurity, Algorithmic approaches for segmenting the retina images and extracting geometric features, as well as more general topics like engaging with public and organizing the research in a more efficient way.

These two weeks included some other activities like a one day trip to York city which make us socialize in a better way, as well as a couple of dinners and of course bowling games!!! Our time during this period was great and all of us are looking forward to attending the next 2nd Workshop from 8-15 June in Crete, GreeceImage


Georgios Leontidis, ESR 3.1

Early Stage Researcher 3.1: Georgios Leontidis

My name is Georgios Leontidis and I hold the 3.1 ESR position of the Revammad project based at the School of Computer Science at the University of Lincoln under the supervision of the PVC professor Andrew Hunter and Dr Bashir Al Diri. The research topic for my project is the early detection and screening of Diabetic retinopathy which means that we analyze retina images of diabetic patients and healthy subjects in order to connect early changes in the vasculature with the disease of diabetic retinopathy.

The exact objectives of my project are the following:

  1. To extract geometric features from retina images from diabetic patients that progressed to diabetic retinopathy before and after the progress as well as the same for healthy subjects
  2. To connect these features with the disease of diabetes  and more specifically to the haemodynamic and functional changes that occur to the vasculature during the disease.
  3. Associate the results with some risk factors like age, gender, type of diabetes, duration of diabetes, smoking etc..
  4. Understand the changes that diabetes causes to the vessels walls and how this affect the formation of the whole vascular tree and specifically the bifurcations

Regarding my academic and research background, I hold a Diploma in Electronics Engineering and Computers and a Master of Science in Medical and Biological Informatics from the University of Athens, Greece. My research areas are Electromagnetism and RF design, Machine learning, Pattern recognition and Artificial intelligence systems. During my Master thesis I occupied myself with developing algorithms for segmenting retina images and calculating vessel’s width. This gave me the motivation to find something prestigious and relevant to continue my research. Revammad was a great opportunity for me, since I collaborate with many great researchers and experts on different fields, all working together to understand the problems of the  Retina.

At present I am working with collecting databases and analyzing images to obtain some early indications of the changes in the vasculature.

This is me and I will you updated with everything new and amazing  that we will do here in Lincoln!