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Winter 2017


eye disorders; ophthalmology

Diabetic retinopathy

A small increase in transforming growth factor beta (TGF-ß) found in the retinal vessels of animals models with diabetes has been found to protect against diabetic retinopathy, which damages retinal blood vessels during the early stages of diabetes. The discovery, by HMS researchers from the Schepens Eye Research Institute of Massachusetts Eye and Ear, was reported online February 2 in the American Journal of Pathology. The research team says the findings may lead to targeted therapeutics that delay or prevent the development of the disease in patients.

“We found that increased TGF-ß is really defending the vessels in the retina,” says senior author Mara Lorenzi, an HMS professor of ophthalmology emerita, a recently retired senior scientist at Schepens, and the study’s senior author. “When we took away the small increase in TGF-ß, we saw significant damage to the retinal vessels in animals with diabetes. Based on this finding, we’d now like to know if a little extra TGF-ß will help protect the retinal vessels in patients with diabetes.”

Diabetic retinopathy, the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness in adults in this country, occurs when blood vessels in the retina become damaged and leak fluid. As the fluid builds up, the retina can swell, and retinal vessels become blocked and can no longer carry blood. New blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina but can leak or rupture, impairing vision. Currently, there are no treatments for diabetic retinopathy beyond controlling blood glucose and blood pressure levels.

Based on this finding, the study authors not only warn against the use of TGF-ß blocking as a therapy for diabetes-related damage to kidneys and other body parts, but also suggest that there may be ways to identify drugs for upward modulation of TGF-ß signaling in a very controlled fashion to prevent or delay diabetic retinopathy.

Image: Memorisz/Getty Images

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