According to recent WHO global estimates, 422 million people have diabetes, of which one of the most common complications is vision loss.

Now, researchers at Queen’s University Belfast and University College London have discovered that a drug, originally developed to treat cardiovascular disease, has the potential to reduce diabetes- related blindness.

Diabetic Macular Oedema occurs in approximately seven per cent of patients with diabetes and is one of the most common causes of blindness in the Western World. In the UK, this sight-threatening complication of diabetic retinopathy is associated with estimated health and social care costs of £116 million. The socio-economic burden will only increase with prevalence of diabetes rising by more than 50 per cent by 2030.

Queen’s and UCL researchers, in partnership with GlaxoSmithKIine, found that the drug Darapladib inhibits an enzyme which is increased in people with diabetes and causes blood vessel leakage in the eye which leads to swelling of the retina and severe vision loss.

The discovery by the Queen’s and UCL teams demonstrates that Darapladib in form of a tablet has the potential to reduce the need for monthly injections and provide protection against vision loss in a much wider group of patients with diabetes.

Diabetes-related blindness is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the blood vessels in the retina.’ said Professor Alan Stitt from the Centre of Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University. ‘We have found that an enzyme called Lp-PLA2 which metabolises fats in the blood contributes to blood vessel damage and leakiness in the retina. The drug Darapladib acts as inhibitor of Lp-PLA2, and was originally developed for cardiovascular disease. Based on our break-through we are now planning a clinical trial and if successful we could soon see an alternative, pain-free and cost effective treatment for diabetic-related blindness.’

The research has been published in a top scientific journal called Proceeding of the National Academy of Science USA (PNAS).

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