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Understanding the eye’s internal clock in retinopathy

Project summary

Blood vessels in our eyes have an internal clock. Dr Eleni Beli aims to understand if and how disruptions to this clock affect how eye damage in diabetes can develop and progress. These insights could lead to life-changing new treatments that protect the sight of people with diabetes.

Background to research

Our internal body clock is designed to help us be alert during the day and sleep at night. We already know that when people’s body clocks are disrupted, they are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But we don’t fully understand if our body clock could also impact risk of diabetes complications.  

Problems with the eye, also known as retinopathy, is one common complication of diabetes. Dr Eleni Beli and her team have already discovered that blood vessel cells at the back of our eyes (retina) have their own clocks. These clocks can be disrupted when the blood sugar levels are too high. They hope to better understand this disruption, and how this may affect the development of retinopathy. 

Research aims

Dr Beli will run the first ever experiments to investigate the impact of problems with the eye’s in-built clock on retinopathy. The team will study blood vessel cells taken from donated human retina tissue and will disrupt the cell’s clocks. They’ll do this by adjusting levels of a specific protein, called Bmal-1, that keeps the clock in the eye functioning.  

They’ll then study the cells to identify how exactly this disruption affects the blood vessels at different stages of retinopathy.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Retinopathy can lead to devastating sight loss. But at the moment, we don’t have any treatments that can prevent or slow down its advance. This research could improve our understanding of how retinopathy develops, shedding light on a new biological process that may affect the progression of eye damage.  This knowledge could take us one step closer to life-changing new treatments that target the eye’s clock to help people with diabetes avoid retinopathy.  

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