One doctor at Augusta University has received a huge grant to develop a potentially revolutionary drug for the treatment of diabetic retinopathy. Dr. Shruti Sharma, who works at the university's Center for Biotechnology and Genomic Medicine, has received £1.2 million from the National Eye Institute to perfect her research on this drug.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication from diabetes that affects the blood vessels in the eyes' retina. If left untreated for too long, this disease could lead to total blindness. Early symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include blurry vision, dark spots, and inability to distinguish colors.
Sharma wants her drug to inhibit inflammation within the retina's light sensitive epithelial cells. In particular, Sharma is looking into interleukin-6, an agent known to cause inflammation with these cells. Interestingly, epithelial cells don't have receptors designed to interact with interleukin-6, but doctors have observed that these two chemicals do affect one another.
Although doctors have known about this "trans-signaling" process between the interleukin-6 and retinae cells for awhile now, Dr. Sharma told reporters that no researcher has made it a central part of their study. Sharma's work has been dedicated to inventing a drug that will disrupt this "trans-signaling" process.
Sharma began her testing of this drug on human cells in a lab setting, and then she tested the drug on mice with diabetes. Sharma wanted to test her drug on a wide range of mice, so some of the mice had early-stage diabetes and others had late-stage diabetes.
Rather than cure diabetic retinopathy, Dr. Sharma wants to prevent it from happening in the first place. She is also hopeful that this drug can help people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and is now conducting a human clinical trial with RA patients.
Another interesting fact about this drug is that it has been in the works for quite some time. Sharma told reporters she was doubly excited about these trials because she is now re-purposing this drug.
While this drug is showing positive results in the lab, Sharma is still advising all diabetic patients to get regular eye screenings. With all the research coming out about diabetic retinopathy, primary care doctors should always tell diabetic patients to visit a certified ophthalmologist for an eye screening annually.
Visual symptoms of diabetic retinopathy only occur when the disease has advanced a great deal. This makes it even more important for diabetics to get checked early and often by a trained eye care professional.