retinAl phaSe contraSt imaging for Early diagnoSiS


ASSESS is developing a revolutionary system that provides quick, non-invasive imaging of patients’ retinal cells. By allowing much earlier diagnosis of retinal diseases, a leading cause of blindness, the innovation can improve treatment and increase the opportunities for prevention.

More than 28 million people in Europe are visually impaired due to retinal diseases. Current diagnosis is based on identifying large-scale alteration of the retina, something that standard ophthalmic tools usually only detect after the patient has already suffered some irreversible vision loss. ASSESS is developing a new imaging instrument to identify early cellular changes associated with the diseases and enable diagnosis several years earlier.

ASSESS is led by Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), a world-leading engineering university that provides deep technical and industrial knowledge. Clinical validation partners include Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM), a famous medical research centre located in Paris, and Fondation Asile des Aveugles, which provides access to a renowned ophthalmic hospital.

The ASSESS project’s goal is to create a start-up to sell two imaging systems: an ex-vivo microscope and an in-vivo instrument for clinical use. The project’s in-vivo imaging of the human eye uses a technique that is a radical improvement on the state of the art and promises much earlier retinal disease diagnosis, allowing improved treatment.

Much of the cellular structure of the retina is transparent and has extremely low contrast. The ASSESS solution provides an oblique illumination of the retinal layers using infrared light beams that pass through the white part of the eye. It has already been used to produce the very first human high-resolution images of several retinal cells, such as the RPE layer, obtained in vivo with a short acquisition time. The innovation shows promise for clinical use because it is potentially the only technique fast enough to image the retina with high contrast and cellular resolution without harming patients. An original paper on the technique is under review for publication in a high impact scientific journal.

The start-up will target ophthalmic research centres, hospitals and clinics, to establish the instrument as part of standard care.


This innovation will complete the panel of diagnostic tools available in ophthalmology, improving early diagnosis of retinal diseases and thus preventing vision loss – providing huge benefits for patients, their family and society. The tool will also accelerate the development of new drugs, by providing end-point criteria based on changes observed in retinal cells captured with the high-resolution images of the instrument.

Why this is an EIT Health project

This project’s innovation meets the EIT Health goal of improving healthcare. It is also in keeping with the EIT Health Focus Area of “Care Pathways”, because it promises earlier diagnosis, which will lead to better treatment, and it offers a means for better research into new treatments for retinal diseases.

Christophe Moser
| Professor | Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)
Timothe Laforest
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