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Changing the channel: finding new ways to stop retinopathy

Project summary

One of the leading causes of sight loss in people with diabetes is retinopathy. The current treatment for retinopathy isn’t effective in everybody, so Professor Tim Curtis wants to find a new approach. He believes that channels on the surface of cells in blood vessels in the retina could be the answer. His team will investigate how these channels work and what happens to them in people with diabetes, with the hope of developing new ways to reduce the risk of retinopathy.

Background to research

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the leading causes of sight loss in people with diabetes. This is a condition where the cells lining our blood vessels, called endothelial cells, in the retina (the light-sensing area at the back of the eye) get damaged and begin to leak fluid. This causes the retina to swell, leading to sight loss.

The current treatment for retinopathy only works for around 50% of people. Professor Curtis’s lab has discovered proteins on the endothelial cells called TRPV1 channels, which are believed to control how much fluid moves in and out of the cells. Professor Curtis believes that current treatments aren’t affecting these channels, and that they could be affected to treat retinopathy.

Research aims

Professor Curtis’s student will study endothelial cells in retinas taken from cows, and examine the flow of fluid in and out of the cells. They want to know if specific chemicals found in higher levels in people with diabetes can affect this flow of fluid.

They’ll treat the endothelial cells with these chemicals, and look for the ones that interact with the TRPV1 channels and cause the endothelial cells to leak the most fluid.

They’ll then study the top three most effective chemicals in more detail, to uncover what specific effects they have on the TRPV1 channels. They will also see how these effects differ in high and low sugar environments.

Finally, they’ll stop the TRPV1 channels from working in mice with diabetes, to find out if this can prevent or reduce damage to their retinas.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication for people with diabetes that can lead to sight loss, and current treatments aren’t effective for everyone.  Understanding more about how the eyes become damaged and how to stop it could pave the way for a new therapy to prevent or slow the condition.

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