Study to investigate if those with diabetic eye disease are at greater risk of Covid-19 complications

07 September 20

written by:

Róisín Treacy

(more articles)

A microscopic image of covid-19.

Fight for Sight is partnering with Diabetes UK to investigate if people with the eye disease diabetic retinopathy are at greater risk of developing complications from Covid-19, in a study that hopes to save lives.

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the most common causes of sight loss among working-age adults in the UK and this research, which will be carried out at the University of Edinburgh, will investigate whether people previously diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy experience worse COVID-19 outcomes.  The study will determine whether this is because the virus can reach tissues outside the lungs (in this case the eye) due to damaged blood vessel walls.

If successful, the results of the study will allow researchers to propose new ways of predicting COVID-19 risk based on non-invasive imaging of the eye. This could assist doctors in identifying the people at greatest risk of complications at the time of diagnosis and plan their treatment pathways accordingly. 

This project builds on the success of the multidisciplinary eye research group at the University of Edinburgh convened by Prof. Bal Dhillon, and the close collaboration between clinical ophthalmology, pathology, data science, and image analysis (Drs Megaw, Dorward, MacCormick, and Bernabeu).

Dr Miguel O. Bernabeu is coordinating the study at the Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh. He said: “For this study, we will capitalise on over a decade of our existing analysis in patients with brain, cardiovascular and renal diseases, using computer image analysis and risk estimation based on artificial intelligence (AI) methods. If the results support our hypothesis, we will be in a position to design a prospective study to validate these findings and advance towards clinical adoption within one year. We will also investigate whether pre-existing damage to blood vessels caused by diabetes can predict COVID-19 virus tissue invasion in other vital organs including the brain and kidney in our parallel clinico-pathological study.”

Chief Executive of Fight for Sight, Sherine Krause said: “We are so pleased to partner with Diabetes UK to fund this important and timely research study. If successful, it has the potential to help ensure better outcomes for countless people who contract the Covid-19 virus, and ultimately could save lives. We know that science has the answer to so many challenges – the power of science will help us stop the pandemic, and we know it will also help us stop sight loss and blindness in the future. We wish the team at University of Edinburgh the best of luck with their research project and look forward to seeing the results.” 

Anna Morris, Assistant Director of Research at Diabetes UK said: "There’s never an easy time to have diabetes, but the Covid-19 pandemic is a particularly difficult time for people living with the condition. That’s why it’s crucial that we identify who is at higher risk of more severe outcomes from infection. We hope that Dr Bernabeu’s research will give us an easier way to identify people at high risk and help to take steps to protect and treat them in the future."

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