For the first time ever researchers will be defining how every cell type within the retina responds to diabetes as part of a study funded by Fight for Sight.
Announced during National Eye Health Week (23–29 September), the study will be the first of its kind to simultaneously ‘dissect’ out all the cell types within the retina with the aim of discovering how they are affected during the course of diabetic retinopathy.
Led by Dr David Simpson at Queen's University Belfast, researchers will use single cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-Seq) to simultaneously understand the genes in thousands of cells in the retinal tissue.
Understanding this sight-threatening condition, which has the potential to affect 144,000 people in the UK, could provide new treatments to target specific cells and prevent or slow down the early retinal changes, Fight for Sight emphasised.
For people in the UK diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, within 20 years of diagnosis, nearly all have some degree of retinopathy, which can lead to sudden vision loss. Within the same time period, an estimated 60% of people with type 2 diabetes experience retinopathy.
Speaking about the research, Dr Simpson said: “I am thrilled by the opportunity provided by this funding to apply the very latest technique to perform a ‘molecular dissection’ of the retina and discover how all the different cell types required for vision are affected by diabetes. This offers great potential for developing future treatments for diabetic retinopathy.”
Director of research, policy and innovation at Fight for Sight, Dr Neil Ebenezer, added: “Diabetic retinopathy is a severe complication of diabetes which can in some cases lead to blindness if left untreated. Fight for Sight is funding this pioneering study because it could lead to the development of new treatments to prevent sight loss from this condition and transform the lives of thousands of people.”