Spotlight on diabetic retinopathy
Diabetic Retinopathy is the most common visual complication in people with diabetes and one of the major causes of blindness in the working-age population. The impact upon people can range from distorted vision to full sight loss.
A Fight for Sight research project led by Dr Jose Manuel Romero at Queens University Belfast, is furthering our understanding of the mechanics of Diabetic Retinopathy. This is necessary to help us halt progression of the disease and ultimately prevent sight loss.
High blood sugar from diabetes is the main trigger for damage to the retina but we don’t completely understand how the damage happens. The retina needs lots of energy to keep working. It’s produced by ‘powerhouses’ inside cells, called mitochondria.
We don’t know why, but mitochondria stop working properly in diabetes and they build up in the retina. This puts people with diabetes at severe risk of sight loss; first because the retina can’t produce all the energy it needs and also because the broken mitochondria are a source of toxic waste.
In healthy retinas damaged mitochondria are continually and naturally replaced with newly-made ones. But the research team has some evidence that this system of turnover doesn’t work properly in diabetes. The team is using this project to find out more about how diabetes affects the turnover of mitochondria in the retina and whether treatment to get the process working again can slow or stop sight loss.
Dr Romero said: “Research is essential to have a better understanding of how diabetes leads to retina and eye damage, so that we can develop novel, effective and safe therapies for this devastating visual disorder.”