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Improving methods for catching complications early

Project summary

Retinal trait changes as a novel biomarker to improve cardiovascular and microvascular risk prediction in people with Type 2 diabetes

People with Type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of developing vascular complications that include cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and retinopathy. This project aims to determine whether changes to vessels in the retina (the light-sensitive area at the back of the eye) could be used as an indicator of diabetes-related complications well before symptoms appear, therefore predicting a person’s risk. If successful, this non-invasive screening method could reduce the prevalence of the debilitating complications that people with Type 2 diabetes can experience.

Background to research

The retina (the light-sensitive area at the back of the eye) is the only part of the body where blood vessels can be viewed non-invasively. Recent advances in technology mean that retinal screening is now efficient and cost-effective. Changes in the structure of blood vessels have been associated with an increased risk of retinopathy and cardiovascular diseases in people with diabetes. 

Research aims

This project aims to determine whether retinal screening could be an effective way of predicting vascular complications in people with diabetes. The team will be comparing images of the retina taken in 2006 and 2016/17 in over 1000 people taking part in the Edinburgh Type 2 Diabetes Study. The team will use state-of-the-art technology to analyse all aspects of blood vessel structure (like the width or number of branches) to see if there is any association between specific vessel traits and the prevalence of heart disease, stroke, retinopathy and kidney disease.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Diabetes-related complications, like cardiovascular disease and retinopathy, are progressive and have a detrimental impact on quality of life for people with Type 2 diabetes. Identifying people that are most at risk of diabetes-related complications could allow healthcare professionals to intervene early, slowing or stopping the development of the conditions. The project is fully funded by Tesco partnership

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