A new research project is underway that aims to investigate a novel approach to treating diabetic retinopathy and preventing patients from losing their sight.
Millions of people with diabetes worldwide are affected by this eye condition, which occurs when high blood sugar levels affect the flow of blood to the eye, damaging the retina and impairing vision. If left untreated, it can lead to blindness .
To halt the progression of retinopathy, a team of international scientists led by experts at Queen’s University Belfast plan on taking bone marrow-derived stem cells from adult donors, developing ways to grow them and expanding the number of cells in a laboratory setting.
The aim is to then transplant the cells into the eye of a patient to help repair the damaged blood vessels, regenerate the damaged retina and restore vision.
They cells will be tested in several pre-clinical models of diabetic complications at various labs across Europe before human trials take place in Denmark.
Lead researcher for the €6 million EU-funded study, Professor Alan Stitt, Director of the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science at Queen’s University, said its impact “could be profound” for patients, as regeneration of damaged retina could prevent the progression of diabetic retinopathy and reduce the risk of vision loss.
He added; “Currently available treatments for diabetic retinopathy are not always satisfactory. They focus on end-stages of the disease, carry many side effects and fail to address the root causes of the condition.
“A novel, alternative therapeutic approach is to harness adult stem cells to promote regeneration of the damaged retinal blood vessels and thereby prevent and/or reverse retinopathy.
“This is the first step towards an exciting new therapy in an area where it is desperately needed.”

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