A new scientific breakthrough could eventually save diabetics from losing their eyesight.
Diabetic retinopathy is a condition which causes blindness in diabetes patients. It occurs when high blood sugar levels damage retina. A common complication of diabetes, diabetic retinopathy affected approximately 7.69 million Americans in 2010 alone(1).
Currently, treatment for diabetic retinopathy is handled on a case by case basis, depending on how advanced the condition is. But now, new research is providing hope for a better approach to preventing this complication of diabetes.
Previous research had led scientists to believe that a protein called VEGFC was what caused the damage to the eyes of diabetic patients.
However, new research has revealed that another protein, called angiopoietin-like 4, also stops eyes from functioning.
New therapies targeting VEGT have been successful in the past, but they don’t work for all patients – so scientists used patient samples, human cells and mice to show that targeting the protein angiopoietin-like 4 alongside of VEGF could increase the effectiveness of treatment.
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“The results (of the study) suggested to us that although VEGF clearly plays an important role in blood vessel growth, it’s not the only factor,” said Akrit Sodhi, an assistant professor at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine in a recent press release(2).
Diabetic retinopathy is prevented in the early stages by managing diabetes, and in later stages by laser eye surgery.
But while surgery can save central vision, it often does so at the expense of peripheral and night vision.
In the hopes of finding a new approach to treatments, researchers used fluid samples taken from the eyes of non-diabetic people, diabetic people without diabetic retinopathy, and diabetic people with diabetic retinopathy to see what their protein levels were like.
What they found was that the samples from individuals with proliferative diabetic retinopathy had higher levels of VEGF – but at the same time, some of their fluid had less VEGF than the fluid of healthy patients.
Clearly, while VEGF plays a role, it’s not the only factor in the development of this side effect of diabetes – something researchers are now sure of with the results of this new study.
Hope For New Treatments
Sodhi thinks that if a drug that safely blocks angiopoietin-like 4 is created, it could be combined with anti-VEGF drugs to provide a more comprehensive approach to preventing proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
Scientists are now researching whether or not angiopoietin-like 4 could be related to other eye diseases that affect the retina, such a macular degeneration, a disease which destroys the central portion of the retina.
Hopefully these new findings will serve as a basis for new discoveries to help those living with diabetes avoid this potential complication.