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24 October 2017

Highlights

Combating vision loss: researcher look at innovative treatment for diabetic retinopaty

iStock 000019784530 SmallEuropean researchers test innovative eye-drop treatment to stop development of diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness in developed countries

 

Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to severe eye problems. Amongst them is diabetic retinopathy - the most common eye disease caused by diabetes, which can cause severe vision loss or even blindness. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness amongst working age adults in developed countries, making it the most feared complication for people who live with diabetes.

 

Current treatments for this eye disease - such as laser photocoagulation or intravitreal injections (i.e. an injection of medicine in the eye) - are only indicated in more advanced stages and are invasive and costly. They can also be associated with significant side-effects.

 

With the common goal of finding a new and less invasive treatment for the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, a group of leading researchers from 8 European countries have joined forces under EUROCONDOR, the European Consortium for the early treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy – a collaborative research programme funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. By treating the disease at earlier stages, researchers hope to be able to prevent or stop its development, allowing people with diabetes to maintain their sight.

 

The starting point was to look at the role played by neurodegeneration during the early stages of the complication. “There is growing evidence showing that neurodegeneration plays an important role in the development of diabetic retinopathy”, says Professor Peter Scanlon, Consultant ophthalmologist at Gloucestershire Hospitals, one of 11 clinical centres taking part in the EUROCONDOR clinical trial. Prof Scanlon is also Director of English National Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Programme. He added, “Based on this it is safe to assume that treatments based on neuroprotection could prevent or slow the development of diabetic retinopathy”.

 

The EUROCONDOR team will try to verify this assumption by testing the safety and efficacy of an eye-drop treatment based on two neuroprotective drugs – brimonidine and somatostatin. The project’s clinical trial is now in its final year, with results expected to be released in February 2016.

 

Being involved in a clinical trial such as EUROCONDOR always has a strong human aspect. “Many of the patients we follow-up have become friends with our research nurse and doctor who see them at every visit”, explains Prof. Scanlon. “Our research nurse also calls them every month, which helps create an open dialogue with them and builds up a relationship of trust.”

 

There is also most of the times a personal motivation for each of the patients enrolled in the study. “The majority of participants have had relatives who have had vision problems because of diabetic retinopathy”, adds Prof Scanlon. “Others just want to help out - one of the patients we follow is a general practitioner who wanted to do his bit for research now that he has retired.”

 

Back to basics: understanding the mechanisms of diabetic retinopathy

 

Researchers working “behind the curtain” play an equally important role in understanding the effects of the innovative eye-drop treatment EUROCONDOR is testing. This is the case for basic researchers, whose aim is to understand the specific mechanisms of such a disease, using cellular or animal models to mimic what happens inside the human body.

 

“Basic research is the first, necessary, step to understand the mechanisms at the basis of any disease”, saysElena Beltramo, cell biologist from the University of Turin, one of the partners involved in EUROCONDOR. “Our role in the project is to understand the molecular mechanisms of somatostatin and brimonidine, and see if they can stop the neurodegeneration happening at the early stages of diabetic retinopathy.”

 

Positive outcomes for the EUROCONDOR project could have a considerable impact on prevention, placing neurodegeneration as a new target for early detection of diabetic retinopathy in people with diabetes. These new findings could help improve current prevention and early diagnosis programmes across Europe.

 

"Despite the considerable advances in understanding the risk factors and molecular mechanisms leading to microvascular complications of diabetes in the last decades, much still needs to be done to improve the quality of life of people with diabetes. A non-invasive eye-drop treatment allowing people with diabetes to preserve their eyesight would be a major step forward in this direction", adds Elena.

 

For more information about EUROCONDOR, visit www.eurocondor.eu