Researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center may have found a way to stop one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that affects up to five million Americans who have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The retina is the inside lining of the eye. When light enters the eye, it is captured by light sensing cells in the retina. These cells convert the light image into electrical signals that are sent to the brain through the optic nerve.
Tiny blood vessels in the eye carry oxygen and nutrients to the retina to keep it healthy and to promote good vision. In people with diabetes, excess sugar in the blood can damage these blood vessels and stop the retina from getting the nutrients it needs. This condition, which is known as diabetic retinopathy, sometimes causes blood vessels in the eye to swell and leak fluid. In other patients, the disease can cause abnormal blood vessels to grow on the surface of the eye. The result is vision loss and possible blindness. Diabetic retinopathy is a progressive condition that gets worse over time.
Scientists in Oklahoma believe they have discovered a way to use a natural compound to stop diabetic retinopathy. The researchers used nanoparticle technology to deliver the new compound into cells in the eye. Nanoparticles are tiny particles that are only visible through a microscope. Scientists are developing ways to use nanoparticles to target specific cells to deliver precise doses of drugs. The small size of the nanoparticles allows them to penetrate into the cell where other, larger particles would be rejected. This allows the medication to get to the area where it can do the most good.
During testing, the new treatment developed by the University of Oklahoma team stopped leakage in the eye caused by diabetic retinopathy, blocked inflammation, and prevented new, unwanted blood vessels from forming. Researchers believe their work will allow scientists and pharmaceutical companies to develop new therapies which could include eye drops that will stop the progression of the diabetic retinopathy and potentially preserve vision for millions of Americans who are at risk for the disease.