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HomeNewsDiscovery Of A Potentially New Treatment For Diabetic Retinopathy

Discovery Of A Potentially New Treatment For Diabetic Retinopathy

KAWARTHA LAKES-A potentially effective treatment for diabetic retinopathy, a disease that swells and scars the retina, has been developed by a University of Montréal (UdeM) scientist and investigator at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital Research Centre (MRH-RC).

In 2016, 3.5 million Canadians had diabetes, a figure expected to rise to nearly 14 million by 2026. The associated costs of managing diabetes were estimated at $3.4 billion at that time, increasing to $5B over the next ten years.

Diabetic retinopathy is seen in 20% of cases of newly diagnosed diabetes, which suggests that a person has been experiencing the damaging effects of the disease for four to seven years prior to diagnosis according to the Canadian Association of Optometrists. The risk of blindness is 25 times higher for someone with diabetes, making it the leading cause of blindness in Canada. 

Working with research scientist Pam Tsuruda of the San Francisco-based company UNITY Biotechnology, Przemyslaw (Mike) Sapieha published the results of the research project in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Phase 1 human studies are now being carried to test the potential of this new class of retinal drugs.

“This collaboration between the MRH-RC, UdeM and UNITY Biotechnology could have an impact on the quality of life of patients with diabetic retinopathy,” said Sapieha, a professor in UdeM’s Department of Ophthalmology and director of MRH-RC’s Neurovascular Eye Disease Research Unit.

“With a single injection,” he added, “it would potentially be possible to eliminate groups of cells that contribute to diabetic eye disease, which affects some 750,000 Canadians and is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults.”

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by a degeneration of the small blood vessels that feed the retina and that regrow abnormally. These new vessels can leave scars on the retina and thus obstruct vision.

One of the main challenges in the treatment of diabetic retinopathy is determining which blood vessels are healthy and which are damaged according to experts. Mike Sapieha’s research reveals that abnormal blood vessels trigger molecular programs associated with accelerated aging, commonly known as cellular senescence.

The current study builds on earlier work published by Mike Sapieha and Frederick Mallette, who in 2016 were the first to identify cellular senescence as a disease process in diabetic retinopathy.

In their study, co-authors Sergio Crespo-Garcia and Agnieszka Dejda of MRH-RC identified a molecular target, BCL-xL, present in defective retinal blood vessels. The drug developed by UNITY Biotechnology uses this molecular target to selectively eliminate the defective vessel and thus allow the retina to repair itself.

“I am proud of our leadership in vision health in both the clinical and scientific communities,” said Sylvain Lemieux, president and CEO of CIUSSS de l’Est-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, the public health-care network of which MRH-RC is a part.

“This excellence in the field is driven by UdeM’s Centre universitaire d’ophtalmologie, which promotes greater synergy between patient care, teaching and research,” Lemieux said. “Once again, the results of the work of researchers at MRH-RC are very promising for the quality of life of people with ocular diseases.”

It’s unclear when the drug might be available for the general public.


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Pamela Vanmeer
Pamela Vanmeerhttps://www.kawartha411.ca/
Pamela VanMeer is a two time winner of the prestigious Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Award. Her investigative reports on abuse in Long Term Care Homes garnered international attention for the issue and won the Ron Laidlaw Award. She is a former reporter and anchor at CHEX News, now Global Peterborough and helped launch the New CHEX Daily, a daily half hour talk show. While at CHCH News in Hamilton she covered some of the biggest news stories of the day.

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