Simple eye drops could treat diabetic related eye conditions and fend off risk of blindness

by Barbara Hewitt on May 24, 2017

Researches in the UK are looking at using simple eye drops to treat eye problems caused by diabetes which could replace the need for monthly injections.

Currently people suffering from diabetic retinopathy face the discomfort of regular injections to prevent the condition from worsening and protecting them from the risk of blindness.


But a new study being led by Professor David Bates of the University of Nottingham is investigating whether eye drops could be used instead and if the research is successful they could be available in clinical trials within the next three to five years.

Bates pointed out that diabetes is the leading cause of preventable sight loss in the working population in the UK. The impact of this research means that in the future diabetic patients could be offered a better, more effective way of preventing them from losing their sight.

‘The current treatment for diabetic retinopathy is very unpleasant for the patient but also costly and time consuming because the injection can only be performed at eye clinics by specialist doctors and nurses,’ he said.

‘Eye drops that patients could administer themselves would reduce both their discomfort and the financial burden which the current treatment places on the NHS,’ he added.

Around 1.2 million people are believed to suffer from diabetic retinopathy in the UK, with around 750,000 of those currently experiencing some form of visual impairment. Diabetic retinopathy is caused by high blood sugar levels.

Over time it can weaken and damage the small blood vessels within the retina which can cause haemorrhages, leaky blood vessels and swelling on the retina. This starves the retina of oxygen, causing abnormal blood vessels to grow. If left untreated over time it can affect vision and lead to blindness.

In more serious cases, the leaking blood vessels behind the eye can lead to the condition diabetic macular oedema in which fluid builds up in the macula, the part of the eye which provides us with our central vision. The condition of patients with diabetic macular oedema can decline very quickly and can lead to rapid visual impairment and blindness.

In the human body, a protein called VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) is responsible for the normal formation and growth of blood vessels. But in diabetic patients a type of VEGF is produced which causes the faulty blood vessels to grow and leak fluid into the eye.

Current treatments target all forms of VEGF which prevent the growth of the faulty blood vessels but also stops the re-growth of normal blood vessels to help the eye recover from the effects of the high blood sugar levels.

The researchers believe that work aimed at developing eye drops for the condition Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) could also work to prevent sight loss in diabetic patients.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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