Researchers from Georgia Regents University, in the US, appears to show that oxidative stress plays a major role within the development of diabetic retinopathy.
Oxidative stress, which is different from psychological stress, occurs when the body produces higher than normal levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in response to events which can include exposure to ultraviolet light or significant heat. The retina, being particularly sensitive to light and heat, is therefore at particular risk and a further cause of oxidative stress is too high blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia), which is of course more common in people with diabetes.
Reactive oxygen species plays a role in healing the body but at too high levels, the healing process can lead to damage. In addition to the effects on retinopathy, too high levels of ROS have also been linked with development of cancer and the aging process.
The research team at the Medical College of Georgia had previously shown that reactive oxygen species are produced from cells in the retina as well as from white blood cells produced by bone marrow.
Keen to investigate the link further, the researchers studied two groups of mice. One of the groups of mice was unable to produce ROS from white blood cells and the other group of mice could not produce ROS from their retinal cells. The researchers found that in both groups of mice, damage to the retina was prevented.
To date, there are no effective treatments that can prevent ROS production in the retina but there are treatments that can reduce white blood cells from being activated. The researchers note that the role white blood cells play in fighting disease and infection would not be compromised by the white blood cells not being activated.
Research will be needed to see if drug treatments can safely reduce levels of ROS and whether this can effectively prevent diabetic retinopathy from occurring with minimal side effects.

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