UNM Receives Grant to Study Diabetic Retinopathy

A research collaboration between the departments of Cell Biology and Physiology and Surgery within the School of Medicine may lead physicians across the nation to change diabetic treatment from the outset of diagnosis.

Arup Das, M.D., division chief for Ophthalmology within the School of Medicine Department of Surgery, and Paul McGuire Chair of the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology recently received a three year, $495,000 grant from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation to study how proteinases can affect the vascular leakage that occurs in diabetic retinas. The two will begin researching the role of proteinases in the development of early diabetic retinopathy and the possibility that inhibition of these enzymes may be a suitable new target to reduce edema inside the retinas of diabetics.

Diabetic Retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in people ages 20-64 with 12,000 new cases diagnosed each year. The risk of ocular diseases in diabetics is 25 times that of the general population and, after five years, approximately one-quarter of patients with diabetes have retinopathy. After 15 years, nearly everyone with diabetes has some retinal changes.

McGuire was originally studying the affects of proteinases in heart development. Das was interested in the possible role played by these proteins in diabetic retinopathy. After discussion, the two teamed up several years ago to test a hypothesis that these enzymes are instrumental to the formation of new vessels in the diabetic retina and may be a useful new therapeutic target to prevent the devastating effects of diabetes on the retina.

More recent studies have shown that the proteinases are also important in causing leakage of the retinal vessels in the diabetic and that inhibitors of these enzymes can prevent the edema seen in the retinas of diabetic animals.

"This is an exciting, multi disciplinary research project," said Das. "If these findings can be replicated in humans there is a great potential for the use of new drugs to prevent or treat macular edema in patients with diabetic retinopathy. It could change the way physicians treat diabetics in the future."

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Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322

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