Professor Stephen Moss has found a protein involved in retinopathy. He now wants to understand precisely how it causes damage to blood vessels in the eye and test whether blocking its activity could help to prevent retinopathy in mice. This research could help us to understand how people with diabetes develop eye damage and find new, better treatments to stop it.
Background to research
Diabetic eye disease, known as retinopathy, is caused by changes in the tiny blood vessels at the back of the eye. These blood vessels are mainly made up of two types of cells: endothelial cells that line the vessel wall and pericytes that wrap around and support the endothelial cells. When retinopathy develops, the pericytes stop working properly and eventually die. This causes the blood vessels to become leaky or damaged, leading to vision problems.
Professor Moss has found that a protein in the retina, called LRG1, contributes to blood vessel damage that happens early on in retinopathy. But we don’t know how LRG1 causes this damage.
Professor Moss has also developed a new drug that blocks the activity of LRG1. This drug will soon be tested in clinical trials to treat other types of eye conditions.
Professor Moss aims to work out the role LRG1 plays in the development of retinopathy. To do this, he will study mice with diabetes. Some of those mice are missing the gene which makes LRG1.
This way, the team can find out exactly how LRG1 affects endothelial cells and pericytes, and therefore how it contributes to retinopathy. Professor Moss and his team will then see if their new treatment, that blocks LRG1 activity, can prevent damage to eye blood vessels in mice.
Potential benefit to people with diabetes
Current retinopathy treatments only work for around half of people, so there’s an urgent need to find better ones.
Revealing the role of new players – like LRG1 – can give us a better insight into how eye damage and sight loss develops in people with diabetes. This research is also a step towards testing new, anti-LRG1 treatments in people with retinopathy. Ultimately, this could be life-changing for people with diabetes who current retinopathy treatments don’t work for.