(RxWiki News) Damage to a key portion of the eye is a common problem for diabetics. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among adults.
As a growing number of people become diagnosed with diabetes, Cedars-Sinai researchers are looking for ways to prevent some of the common health complications such as blindness.
Cedars-Sinai was recently awarded a $3 million 5-year grant from the National Eye Institute that will enable them to develop gene therapy in corneal stem cells in an effort to reduce cornea damage and prevent vision loss in diabetics.
"Eye problems can affect those with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes."
Diabetes can damage the retina of the eye, leading to blindness, but it can also affect the cornea, the clear surface covering the eye that protects it from foreign objects such as dust. The cornea also acts as a lens that allows the eye to see images, but all layers of the cornea must be clear of cloudy or opaque areas to see well.
Dr. Clive Svendsen, PhD, director of the Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute and a co-investigator on the grant said that in healthy patients the cornea quickly heals possible defects because the tissue has stem cells that constantly regenerate. However, in diabetics those cells become dysfunctional and the cornea is prone to poor wound healing and other problems that can cause pain and vision loss.
That condition is called diabetic keratopathy, and Cedars-Sinai researchers recently demonstrated for the first time that the corneal stem cells become abnormal in diabetics because their corneas may no longer produce certain proteins that enable normal functioning.
Researchers hope to use the gene therapy to correct production of abnormal proteins in diabetics’ corneas. It is possible that the treatment could restore stem cell functions, allowing the cornea to begin functioning normally and keeping the tissue healthy.