A specific type of protein could be used to prevent against and possibly treat diabetic retinopathy, according to researchers from the Joslin Diabetes Center.

This finding could be particularly significant for people with diabetes, who are more at risk greater risk of developing eye problems. This risk can be reduced however by keeping good control of blood glucose levels.

The trial was based around samples taken from people’s eyes and focusing on the different proteins found, noting down any different levels among those who had diabetic retinopathy.

Through this process the researchers found higher levels of RBP3 among the samples in those who did not have eye disease.

The next stage of the study saw the researchers inject the protein into rodents modelled to have diabetes as retinopathy began to develop. This reversed the damage of the eye disease.

Senior study author Dr George King, who is also Chief Scientific Officer at the Joslin Diabetes Center, said: “The level of RBP3 in the eye’s vitreous and retina are higher in people who don’t progress to diabetic eye disease than in those who do.

“Building on that observatio, we saw that if you overexpress RBP3 by molecular methods [in animal models], you can prevent the onset of diabetic eye disease. And when we injected RBP3 itself into the vitreous of diabetic rats, we reversed some of the early changes of diabetic eye disease.”

RBP3 is found in all eyes and its role is usually to regenerate a certain type of vitamin A in the eye. However, the protein changes its role when the eye is exposed to high glucose levels.

Dr King said: “It appears to decrease the toxic effects of high glucose levels that exist in diabetes by reducing the entering of glucose into several important retinal cells by inhibiting the actions of a glucose transporter, GLUT-1.

“If we could find out what’s causing the decrease of RBP3 in the retina in the first place, we could design some kind of treatment to maintain its production, allowing all diabetic patients to have an endogenous protection against eye disease.”

The findings have been published in the Science Translational Medicine journal.

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