Scientific title:
The eye and brain: Evaluation of the retinal nerve fibres and vessels as markers of small vessel disease progression or regression on neuroimaging
University of Edinburgh
Principal investigator:
Dr Stewart Wiseman (Postdoctoral Fellow)
Grant value:
Research ID:
SA PDF 18\100026
Research area:
Start date:
Sunday 1 July 2018
End date:
Friday 1 July 2022
48 months
Year awarded:


This fellowship will involve studying the human eye to find out about the health of the brain’s small blood vessels and nerve connections in people who have recently had a stroke.

Problems with the brain's small blood vessels, called ‘small vessel disease’:

  • Cause one type of ischaemic stroke (lacunar stroke).
  • Are a major cause of haemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke.
  • Worsens recovery after any stroke.
  • Increases the chances of another stroke.
  • Cause problems with memory, mobility and dementia.

After a stroke, doctors use magnetic resonance imaging (an MRI) to see the brain. Brain MRI tells us about the condition of the brain tissue and its blood supply, but the very smallest vessels are not easy to see. However, there are eye cameras that can take exceptionally detailed pictures of the blood vessels and nerve fibres at the back of the eye, and these can give us information about what is happening to tiny blood vessels and nerve connections in the brain.

What are the aims of this research?

This research is based on the idea that in small vessel disease, the brain’s small blood vessels are not working properly. The nerve connections become damaged and by studying the eye, an idea will be gained of what is happening to the tiny blood vessels and nerves in the brain.

It will study patients with a recent, minor stroke, and investigate whether the blood vessels and nerves in their eyes vary in appearance with the amount of damage in the brain and their symptoms at the time of stroke, and in the year following a stroke.

The research will use well established, very sensitive, computer analysis methods to process measurements of the eye and brain in order to detect subtle improvements in brain structure, and whether the eye vessels and nerves also show improvements. 

What difference could this research make?

The researchers hope that this study will show that the eye may also help monitor patients when testing new stroke treatments and identifying signs of early damage before symptoms develop.