People who suffer from diabetes not only have to contend with the management of the condition, but they are also at an elevated risk of developing a number of health problems, including diabetic retinopathy (DR).
The condition is the most common and one of the most serious complications of diabetes, affecting nearly 90 per cent of people who have had type 1 diabetes for at least 20 years, and remains the leading cause of vision loss among working age adults in the US and other developed countries worldwide.
However, a new study has suggested that many people may be becoming immune to the conditions, considerably improving their chances of avoiding developing diabetes-related eye problems.
The report was carried out by experts at Joslin Diabetes Center, supported by JDRF, who analysed 158 people who have lived with type 1 diabetes for 50 years or more.
By studying the results of these patients' eye examinations over several decades, the specialists have concluded that a high proportion of those analysed developed little to no diabetic eye disease over time.
Approximately 40 per cent of patients were relatively unaffected by the condition, which led researchers to evaluate whether they developed DR and then experienced regression or lack of progression, or never developed significant DR at all.
Their results were presented at the 72nd American Diabetes Association's Scientific Sessions in Philadelphia, where researchers said they hope it will lead to a means to prevent or slow the progression of the disease.
Helen Nickerson, JDRF's senior scientific program manager of complications therapies, suggested that there may be biological or genetic protective factors that could be utilised to benefit other people with type 1 diabetes.
Dr Jennifer Sun, co-investigator on the study at Joslin, said the results led to some "very interesting findings".
"In patients who did not develop advanced DR, there was no evidence of substantial DR regression, but the progression of retinopathy seems to slow after about four years in comparison to those who do develop advanced DR," she added.
"Furthermore, after about two decades, the process of DR worsening essentially seems to halt. It is this halting of disease progression that we will be studying as we move forward to identify the factors that result in protection against long-term complications in patients."