A close-up of a woman's eye staring up and to the left.

Professors Marcus Fruttiger & Adnan Tufail and PhD student, Joel Mendes, will investigate the disease progression of diabetic retinopathy to support avenues for future research and development of treatments.

The challenge

Despite many years of research, there is an absence of robust treatments for diabetic retinopathy (DR) available.

One of the reasons for this lack of therapeutic options is our limited understanding of the pathobiology of DR.

Although it is well known that blood vessels become abnormal in patients with diabetic retinopathy, it is less well understood what happens to the rest of the retina.

Furthermore, much of our current knowledge about potential disease processes is based on animal models. However, to fully understand what happens in the human disease, it is essential to study human patients.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Learn more

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes, damaging the back of the eye (retina). It can cause blindness if left undiagnosed and untreated. Anyone with type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes is potentially at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. You will not usually notice diabetic retinopathy in the early stages, as it does not tend to have any obvious symptoms until it’s more advanced.

Finding a solution

To study DR in patients, researchers are fortunate to have access to human samples which have been generously donated by patients and their families. 

Professors Fruttiger and Tufail have collected information about observable traits (phenotypes) in human post-mortem eyes from people who had lived with diabetes. 

The research team were specifically interested in looking at the retinal vasculature or blood vessel structure at the back of these eyes. This allowed them to determine damage and to identify eyes with early-stage DR. 

PhD student, Joel, will utilise this invaluable data source to expand on this work. He will use modern histological (the study of tissues and cells under a microscope) and gene expression methods to investigate molecular mechanisms that may contribute to early DR. 

The potential

Joel and the wider research team will aim to challenge existing theories by providing supporting or counter evidence to better advance our understanding of the early stages of disease in DR. 

The anticipation is that the understanding of what happens inside cells and structures of the eye during these early stages of DR will support future avenues of research into the development of therapies that could prevent progression to sight loss.

Project Details

Funding scheme

PhD Studentship

Grant holder

Professors Marcus Fruttiger & Adnan Tufail

Area(s) of work

Diabetic retinopathy

Award level


Start date

October 2021

Grant reference