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Research spotlight – eye complications

Diabetic eye disease, known as retinopathy, is one of the most devastating complications of diabetes. It's caused by changes in the tiny blood vessels at the back of the eye. If left untreated, it can lead to serious vision problems and blindness.

Our scientists, past and present, have been leading the fight against eye damage.

What we've already done

It's vital that people with diabetes have regular eye checks to ensure any early signs of damage are spotted quickly. And it was our research that led to the current national eye screening programme.

In the 1980s, we supported Professor Roy Taylor to pioneer a new way of screening for diabetic eye problems – all from the back of a second hand ambulance. The research was a massive success. The new method was easier, more accessible and improved how we spot early signs of damage.

Today every single person with diabetes should have access to annual eye screening. And as a result, retinopathy is no longer the leading cause of blindness among the UK’s working age population.

Read the full story behind this life-changing research.

What we're doing right now

We're still backing innovative research today to prevent eye damage and improve treatment. Here's a snapshot.

Earlier detection of diabetic retinopathy using non-invasive imaging

Dr Ruth Hogg at Queen’s University Belfast

Dr Hogg is investigating whether it is possible to spot retinopathy early on by using a new type of imaging technique, called OCT-A. OCT-A is a quick and non-invasive method that can be used to see very small blood vessels at the back of the eye. Current methods of eye screening only look at the big blood vessels – but the smaller blood vessels may be more vulnerable to damage.

If successful, this method could transform the way we screen for retinopathy by offering earlier diagnosis, to help prevent vision loss in people with diabetes.

New therapy to prevent vision loss

Professor Heping Xu at Queen’s University Belfast

A condition called diabetic macular oedema (DMO) is a major cause of vision loss in people with diabetes. Professor Heping Xu is working to develop a new, effective and safe way to treat it.

He'll see whether existing drugs used for treating cancer and inflammation could also be used for DMO. Researchers will grow small blood vessels from the eye in the lab and test which drugs work against DMO. This could help to protect people with diabetes from devastating vision loss.

Improving treatments for blood vessel leakage in the eye

Dr Patric Turowski at University College London

Scientists have found that a protein, called VEGF, is a cause of DMO. Dr Turowski is studying cells from blood vessels in the eye to understand how VEGF brings about this leakage, and to find new ways to stop it.

In the future, this could help us develop better and safer drugs, to reduce the risk of vision loss in people with diabetes, and transform their quality of life.

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