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Research

Unexpected finding may help diabetic eye disease treatments

07/05/2018
The unlikely discovery of a lipid in the eye, previously thought to only exist in the skin, has researchers optimistic about its potential to help prevent diabetic retinopathy (DR).

The research, conducted by scientists from Michigan State University (MSU) and published in Diabetes, could lead to new techniques that help stop blood vessels leaking.


"Our study presents an unexpected finding that the connections between cells in the retinal blood vessels contain unusual, long-chain lipids that may keep vessels from leaking, possibly preventing diabetic retinopathy from occurring."
Professor Julia Busik, study author

“Our study presents an unexpected finding that the connections between cells in the retinal blood vessels contain unusual, long-chain lipids that may keep vessels from leaking, possibly preventing diabetic retinopathy from occurring,” study author Professor Julia Busik said.

Diabetes can expose blood vessels to high levels of glucose and unhealthy amounts of lipids, which throws off the balance of nutrients that are transported throughout the body. According to Busik, the disease also suppresses the enzyme ELOVL4, which decreases its ability to produce these helpful lipids and prevent further damage.

“When this becomes unbalanced, the vessels leak and become fragile, leading to the development of diabetic retinopathy. It appears though, that these long-chain lipids and the enzymes that produce them can protect the retina and its blood vessels,” Busik said.

The next phase of research will focus on further understanding what these lipids can do and how they are situated in the retina’s tight junctions, in order to potentially establish new treatments.

“Incorporating more of the long-chain lipids into the eye could potentially be a new treatment down the road and involve injections or even eye drops. We’ve found good lipids in the eye that have the potential of changing the development of diabetic retinopathy,” Busik added.

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