Having diabetes can lead to damaged blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye, caused by high blood sugar levels. This can lead to visual impairment and blindness. Dr Judith Lechner wants to find out if a protective protein can be used to repair and reduce this damage, and potentially be used as a new treatment option in the future.
Background to research
The inner layer of blood vessels are covered by a thin layer of cells called endothelial cells. These are the first cells damaged by high blood sugar levels in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Over time, the endothelial cells can’t repair themselves, which leads to the blood vessels closing off. When this happens in the retina, it is known as diabetic retinopathy. Because the retina needs a lot of oxygen and nutrients to function properly, the loss of blood vessels can sometimes lead to visual impairment.
Activated Protein C (APC) is a protein that can protect and repair endothelial cells in other conditions, such as sepsis or stroke. We don’t currently know if APC could be used to protect endothelial cells in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy.
Dr Lechner wants to test how effective APC is at reducing the damage to endothelial cells in diabetic retinopathy. She will do this by growing exposing endothelial cells in the lab and exposing them to high levels of sugar, to mimic the damage seen in people with diabetes. After investigating how the cells respond, Dr Lechner will treat the cells with APC, to see if it can protect the cells from damage. If successful, she will study the cells more closely to understand exactly how APC protects them.
Once Dr Lechner understands how APC is protecting the endothelial cells, she will test APC in mice with diabetes.
Potential benefit to people with diabetes
If successful, this research could inform the development of new treatments to help slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy in its early stages. APC is already being tested in trials for other conditions, and it has been shown to be safe in humans, so it has promising potential as a future treatment.