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.


Faculty prize for PD Dr. Schrittenlocher – Awarded for best habilitation in 2022

Priv.-Doz. Dr. Silvia Schrittenlocher, specialist in cornea and glaucoma at the Center for Ophthalmology at Cologne University Hospital, has been awarded the Faculty Prize for Science 2022 by the Faculty of Medicine and the Förderkreis Medizin e.V. for the best habilitation achievement.

DOG poster award for Dr. Martina Maaß

Dr. Martina Maaß, scientist in the Ocular Surface Group,headed by Prof. Dr. med. Philipp Steven, has been awarded a poster prize for her poster on “Desiccation stress is a risk factor for the development of ocular graft-versus-host disease”

Young Cologne Eye Researcher Šejla Gegić won Margarete Kramer Prize

Šejla Gegić M.Sc. won the Margarete Kramer prize on the annual DOG Congress ( This prize is awarded by the Young DOG for the best abstract submitted to the congress. The purpose of this prize is to recognize outstanding scientific work by young ophthalmologists and scientists from across the field of ophthalmology.


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.