Home Research Research round-up Research spotlights Research spotlight – diabetic retinopathy

Research spotlight
– diabetic retinopathy

Retinopathy is one of the most devastating complications of diabetes and it is essential that people with diabetes have regular eye checks to ensure that the early signs of eye damage are spotted quickly.

Diabetes UK supported research that led to the current national eye screening programme and today we support studies that aim to make it even more effective.

What is retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy involves changes in the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina at the back of the eye, which, if left untreated, can lead to serious vision problems. Within 20 years of diagnosis, nearly everyone with Type 1 diabetes and almost two thirds of people with Type 2 diabetes will have some degree of retinopathy.

As a result, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among UK people of working age. Find out more about retinopathy in our Guide to diabetes.

Early screening is vital

In 1986 Diabetes UK supported a trial at Newcastle University to see if a retinal camera could be used to screen the eyes of people with diabetes for retinopathy. To make screening more accessible, the camera was set up in the back of an ambulance, which could visit diabetes clinics and screen up to 48 people a day.

The trial was incredibly successful. It helped lead to a national eye screening programme and, as of 2010, retinopathy is no longer the leading cause of blindness among Newcastle’s working age population thanks to the work pioneered there.

Current studies

To build on the success of the national eye screening programme and reduce the impact of retinopathy, Diabetes UK is currently supporting the following projects:

Professor Alan Stitt at Queen’s University Belfast

Professor Stittwill supervise an investigation of a unique version of the protein erythropoietin (EPO) to see if it could help to prevent diabetes related eye damage without the potentially harmful side effects normally experienced with such treatment.

Find out more in Our research projects.

Professor Peter Maxwell at Queen’s University Belfast

Professor Maxwell will supervise a PhD student who is drawing on five years’ worth of information collected by diabetes clinics across Northern Ireland to determine whether measuring blood vessels at the back of the eye can help doctors to detect the early signs of diabetes-related complications. If they can, this technique could become a routine part of retinopathy screening in the UK.

Read more about this work in Our research projects.

Professor Dave Bates at the University of Nottingham

Professor Bates will supervise a PhD student who will use gene therapy to find out if a protein called VEGF-A165b can protect the eyes of rats with diabetes from retinopathy-related damage. If successful, this research could lead to the development of a new, naturally occurring treatment for retinopathy.

For more details, see Our research projects.

Dr Heping Xu at Queen’s University Belfast

Dr Xu will study specific processes involved in the development and progression of diabetic retinopathy after cataract surgery. A better understanding of the processes involved could help healthcare professionals to establish the best ways to treat people with diabetes and cataracts.

Learn more about this study in Our research projects.