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New Approach Tried for Diabetic Blindness

Antibody Injections Block Abnormal Blood Vessel Formation
WebMD Health News

Jan. 10, 2005 -- It may be possible to prevent blindness caused by diabetes, say University of Florida researchers.

Their strategy - which involves injections of an antibody into the eye -- has worked on lab mice. If it also helps humans, it could help millions of people with diabetes avoid a complication called diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy can devastate the eye, and it's a common problem. The disease is the leading cause of vision loss in people aged 20-74. It's responsible for 12,000 to 24,000 new cases of blindness per year in the U.S.

Nearly 8 million diabetic Americans have some form of diabetic retinopathy. That's about half of all U.S. diabetes patients, say Edward Scott and colleagues from the university's stem cell biology and regenerative medicine program.

Diabetic retinopathy unfolds in two stages. First, high blood sugar and high blood pressure weaken tiny blood vessels in the eye. As a result, those vessels can bulge and burst, leaking into the eye's retina, the back lining of the eye where electrical impulses are converted to images that are sent to the brain.

Matters can worsen after that. The second, more serious stage is called proliferative retinopathy. It occurs when new blood vessels form on the retina. Those delicate, abnormal new vessels can break easily. The bleeding vessels can also cause scar tissue to form, burdening or even detaching the retina.

Diabetic retinopathy has no cure. Laser treatment can prevent further damage if performed before the retina is ravaged. The researchers also say there are negative side effects from using steroids to decrease swelling seen in some cases of retinopathy that don't respond to laser treatment.

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