European Research Group “Complex Images of Retinal CircuitriEs” (CIRCE)

Vision is the most important sensory system. Low vision and blindness have a huge impact on the quality of life. In Europe, there are 22 million people with sight loss including 2.5 million people with complete blindness. Major retinal diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy are responsible for most cases of low vision and blindness. Recent scientific developments have shown that other brain and neurodegenerative diseases may affect the retina. To be able to treat retinal and brain diseases successfully, they should be diagnosed as early as possible. Current gold standards are, however, not sensitive enough to warrant successful therapies. CIRCE aims at the earlier, better and more robust diagnosis of these retinal diseases using our novel approach.The eye is a part of the brain. However, it is the only part of brain that can be observed directly and non-invasively. This accessibility to light can be used to get structural 3-D images with a much better spatial resolution than is possible for other brain parts (on the level of single cells or in resolving fine capillaries). Furthermore the structural image can be supplemented by spectral information. The spectral composition of the reflected light gives information about the presence and optical density of different pigments. Changes in spectral properties of these pigments are often related to pathological situations.The retina is responsive to light and reacts in an extremely reproducible manner to visual stimuli. The responses can be measured non-invasively with corneal electrodes. By using special stimulus, recording and analysis techniques, the electrophysiological measurements can be used to obtain a unique functional image of the retina.

A structural and functional image of the human retina, showing the spatial structure (i.e. the retinotopy) and the physiological visual responses of retinal circuitries would greatly advance possibilities for early, on-time diagnosis and personalized intervention as well as monitoring the treatment of retinal, neurodegenerative and systemic diseases. Studies with patients with the mentioned retinal diseases (AMD, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy) are needed to provide a Proof of Concept of the different images. In the frame of CIRCE, novel techniques to obtain and analyse structural images will be implemented. Furthermore, functional images, i.e. a spatial image of the physiological properties of the retina, will be developed and combined with structural images to obtain a multimodal image. The improved structural and functional imaging techniques of the retina and the cellular circuitries will improve early diagnosis of retinal, neural and systemic diseases.


CIRCE is a highly multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary consortium consisting of neurobiologists, physicists, ophthalmologists and computer specialists, who have been successfully studying the different properties of the retina for many years. Many partners have also intensively collaborated in the past and have developed innovations in the field of vision science and ophthalmology. They are highly motivated to bring the collaboration and the ensuing innovations to the next level. It is important that experience, skills, knowledge and scientific approach will be passed to a generation of young scientists who will be able to build a career upon their training in the CIRCE consortium. The consortium includes several important SME partners that are world leaders in their field that offer unique opportunities for early researchers. In conclusion, the consortium combines important ideas and innovations that are innovative and highly relevant for the European population and economy. Moreover, all CIRCE partners bring motivation, expertise and experience to combine and realise the ideas for scientific improvements, new commercial products and excellent career opportunities in a highly relevant field of research.

CIRCE will apply for Innovative Training Network (ITN) at the EC.

Involvement of Groups in Erlangen:

University Clinic Erlangen (Prof. Kremers, Augenklinik): Coordinator. Development of functional images of the retina. Images of photoreceptor distribution and the signal originating in the photoreceptors. Images of post-receptoral pathways that are responsible for colour and luminance vision. Clinical evaluation of the functional images of the retina.

FAU (Prof. Maier; Lehrstuhl für Informatik 5; Mustererkennung): The group of Prof. Maier will be responsible for combining structural and functional images to obtain one multimodal image that can be used for disease diagnosis and monitoring.

Zentralinstitut für Medizintechnik Erlangen: Organisation and management

Other academic partners:

University College of Southeast Norway, Norway: adaptive optics, images of the photoreceptor mosaic

Maastricht University, the Netherlands: Spectral analysis of retinal images; structure of retinal vasculature

University of Manchester, UK: Functional images of photoreceptor and post-receptoral pathways.

University of Bradford, UK: Functional images of photoreceptor and post-receptoral pathways.