NIH Awards $1.2 Million To UNM Research Team To Prevent Blindness

The risk of blindness in persons with diabetes is 25 times greater than the general population and, with some 17 million people now with diabetes, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults (20-64 yrs) in the United States. Arup Das, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Ophthalmology at the UNM School of Medicine, recently received a $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to prevent blindness due to diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. Dr. Das will be collaborating with Paul McGuire, Ph.D., associate professor of Cell Biology and Physiology. Das and McGuire are developing alternative pharmacological approaches to suppress neovascularization in the eye that will be free from side effects of laser treatment. Diabetes affects small blood vessels in the eye, resulting in lack of blood supply to small areas of the retina. New blood vessels (neovascularization) grow and cause bleeding in the eye resulting in blindness. The current laser treatment in diabetics aims at burning the retina to stop the growth of small tufts new blood vessels in the eye. Although effective in 80% of the patients, this treatment causes loss of peripheral and night vision. The NIH grant will allow Das to conduct research in developing a new treatment to stop the growth of the new blood vessels is currently funded by the National Institutes of Health. The study will also investigate the use of drugs in suppressing new blood vessels that cause blindness in patients with macular degeneration. Each year 1.2 million of the estimated 12 million people with macular degeneration will suffer severe central vision loss due to neovascularization in the eye. One step in the process of abnormal new blood vessel formation is the invasion and migration of cells lining the vessels. This step is mediated by proteolytic (protein degrading) enzymes which dissolve the surrounding matrix. The new research will look into the use of drugs that will inhibit these enzymes and stop the new blood vessel growth.
Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322

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