Coordinator of the MOON project Prof. Dr Rainer Leitgeb explains how it is developing ways to diagnose diseases more quickly by scanning patients' eyes.

Take a look at this Euronews video about the MOON project.

What does MOON stand for and what are the aims of the MOON project?

MOON stands for Multimodal Optical Diagnosis of Ocular and Neurodegenerative Disease. The MOON project aims to improve the diagnosis of major ophthalmic and neurodegenerative diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease, through the development of disruptive optical technology.

How did the MOON project get started?

After a wonderful kick-off meeting in Vienna, the MOON consortium started its work very ambitiously with the first important task of identifying potential biomarkers of disease for age-related macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease. It became soon clear that the diseases we were studying were highly complex and that it was therefore important to collect as soon as possible relevant data from patients with all available imaging methods.

What impact has EU funding had on your work, and in what ways is your project ‘European’?

The MOON consortium came into being as a result of EU funding: it brings together partners from all over Europe. Each partner has its own specialty, e.g. IPHT in Germany is internationally recognized for advanced spectroscopy methods, Vienna’s Medical University is an European and international reference centre for optical coherence tomography (a specialist imaging technique), and the Dutch organisation for applied scientific research (TNO) has expertise in both biomedical research and photonic technologies. This academic expertise is nicely complemented by key industrial players in Europe such as Carl Zeiss and Horiba Jobin Yvon. With Innolume, we also have an SME on board, which is profiting from the project consortium and its EU funding to strengthen its position on the competitive laser source market. The MOON consortium is a perfect illustration of how a group can achieve much more than its individual members acting alone, which is certainly one of the essences of the EU funding schemes.

What has been the best or most exciting moment in the project so far?

The MOON project is risky and visionary in its objective of creating a molecular sensitive diagnostic platform for the human eye, based on Raman spectroscopy. It was therefore an exciting moment when the partners at IPHT first presented Raman spectra obtained from a human retina in a laboratory setting by mimicking the optical properties of the human eye. This gave us further confirmation that MOON was in a good position to achieve its ambitious goals.

What can we expect from the MOON project in the coming years?

Within in the next 20 years, the number of people affected by age-related diseases will double. If, for example, the onset of Alzheimer’s could be delayed by 5 years, this would not only be of benefit for the patients and their relatives and caretakers – it would also save resources otherwise needed for intensive treatment and care. The same holds for age-related macular degeneration, the major cause of vision loss in the modern world. For Alzheimer’s, there is no effective treatment yet available. In order to develop drugs, it is of course important to have a reliable and sensitive diagnostic tool that can used to assess the treatment effect, and there is no such diagnostic tool available today.  If the MOON project successfully demonstrates a way of reliably diagnosing Alzheimer’s, this would therefore be a game changer in the development of effective treatments for the disease. In a later phase, the MOON technology would then be an unique diagnostic tool for early diagnosis, when treatment is most effective. This would then certainly boost its widespread use. The technology is still at an early stage, but if tests are successful, it could be available as a commercial product about 10 years from now.