Research Program

Immune processes, inflammation and pathological (lymph)angiogenesis are important components of various eye diseases that can lead to blindness. These include graft rejection after corneal transplantation, dry eye and allergic eye disease, ocular tumors, uveitis, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Extensive preliminary work of this research unit showed that abnormal lymphangiogenesis and reactive macrophages/microglial cells are essential triggers and mediators of inflammatory reactions in these eye diseases. Our hypothesis therefore is that by selective modulation of ocular (lymph)angiogenesis and cellular immunity (especially microglia and macrophages) novel innovative therapeutic approaches can be developed to target these heterogeneous diseases.

The research unit has the core objective of gaining a deeper understanding of these molecular processes and to develop new diagnostic and treatment options for common blinding eye diseases through intensive collaboration between specialized research groups in the areas of (lymph)angiogenesis research, inflammatory macrophages, microglial physiology, and uveitis research.

Three thematic areas

lymphatic vessels

Lymphatic vessels are an important part of the “afferent” arm of inflammatory and immune responses. Via lymphatic vessels, antigen-presenting cells and antigens from the periphery enter the regional lymph nodes to induce local immune responses.


Microglia-mediated retinal immune processes are an early occurring pathophysiological hallmark of hereditary retinal dystrophies, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.


Macrophages along with resident microglial cells of the retina appear to play a key role in all ocular inflammatory processes to be studied here. Thus, certain polarized phenotypes of macrophages mesh intimately with pathological lymphangiogenesis.

Background and specific aims


The eye is the most important human sensory organ with which we perceive 90 percent of all information in our environment. The optical transparency as well as a structural and functional integrity of the eye is essential for good vision.

Specific aims

The general goal of the FOR 2240 is the concerted investigation of the so far still poorly understood pathogenesis of aberrant immune processes of the eye and the development of innovative new diagnostic and therapeutic concepts.


Top international researcher as guest

Prof. Dr. Mike (Przemlysaw) Sapieha, an expert in translational eye research at the University of Montreal in Canada, visited the FOR2240 research group and the Chair of Experimental Immunology of the Eye at the Center for Ophthalmology of the University Hospital Cologne and the Faculty of Medicine at the end of March. For several years, there has been a close research collaboration on the role of the immune system in age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of vision loss in older age.

Rare eye diseases: Eight million euros for research: Funding for four years

The European Union has supported a research proposal on new therapies to restore visual acuity in rare and severe ocular surface diseases under the Horizon Health program. The RESTORE VISION consortium, consisting of the Universities of Cologne, Galway, Milan, Linjöping and Paris, and four industrial partners, has received a total of eight million euros in funding over four years.

Dr. Sarah Barbara Zwingelberg, is awarded Belmonte Fellowship for research on the neurobiology of the ocular surface

Sarah Zwingelberg, M.D., ophthalmologist at the Department of Ophthalmology, University Hospital of Cologne, Germany, is awarded the Belmonte fellowship for her application about “Exploring the Processes of Ocular Surface Neurobiology in Neurotrophic Keratopathy for High-Risk Keratoplasty.”


The research unit FOR 2240 hosts a number of different formal events, including regular internal meetings of all principle investigators, invited guest lectures, visiting professors, retreats, and a symposium to be held near the end of the initial funding period.


The research unit FOR 2240 is embedded in various institutional contexts and has close cooperative ties to various other projects and networks.