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We’re funding research into more effective treatments for diabetic retinopathy (DR) and to restore vision to patients because we believe that people’s sight matters.

DR is a complication of diabetes that causes damage to the back of the eye, known as the retina. If left undiagnosed and untreated, it can lead to blindness.

People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can develop DR. In the early stages, the symptoms of DR are subtle and may go unnoticed. Later, symptoms become more severe as the condition progresses.

1 in 10

people with diabetic retinopathy experience vision-threatening complications

Causes of diabetic retinopathy

DR is caused by long-term, uncontrolled diabetes, specifically chronically elevated blood sugar levels. The excess sugar in the blood can damage the small blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.

Factors that may contribute:

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  • High blood sugar (hyperglycemia): prolonged periods of elevated blood sugar levels cause damage to the blood vessels throughout the body, including the tiny blood vessels in the retina
  • Duration of diabetes: the longer someone has diabetes, the greater the risk of developing DR. However, the risk can be reduced or delayed with good diabetes management.
  • Blood pressure: high blood pressure (hypertension) can worsen the damage to retinol blood vessels and increase the risk of DR.
  • Cholesterol levels: abnormal cholesterol can worsen the condition
  • Pregnancy: pregnant people with diabetes have an increased risk of developing DR, especially if their blood sugar levels are not controlled during pregnancy.
  • Smoking: smoking is associated with a higher risk of DR and can worsen its progression.

Regular eye check-ups and maintaining good blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol control help to prevent DR.

Early detection and timely treatment are crucial to managing DR and preventing sight loss.

If you have diabetes, working closely with your healthcare team to monitor your eye health and implement measures to protect your vision is essential.

Symptoms and treatments for diabetic retinopathy

The early stages of DR symptoms might be subtle. As the condition progresses, the following symptoms may develop:

  • Impaired colour vision
  • Floaters (small spots of dark strings) in the field of vision
  • Dark or empty areas in the vision
  • Difficulty seeing at night
  • Vision loss or sudden blindness (in severe cases)

Treatments for diabetic retinopathy

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  • Blood sugar control: properly managing blood sugar levels is crucial to preventing DR from worsening. Keeping blood glucose levels within a target range can significantly reduce the risk of vision problems.
  • Laser photocoagulation: this treatment uses a laser to seal off leaking blood vessels or shrink abnormal retina blood vessels. It helps prevent further damage to the retina and may sometimes improve vision.
  • Intravitreal injections: these are injections of medications into the eye’s vitreous gel near the retina. Anti-VEGF (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor) drugs can help reduce swelling and prevent the growth of abnormal blood vessels.
  • Vitrectomy: a vitrectomy may be performed in advanced cases with severe bleeding or retinal detachment. During this surgical procedure, the vitreous gel is removed from the eye and replaced with a clear fluid to restore vision.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications: corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce inflammation in the retina and manage swelling.
  • Regular eye exams: early detection is vital in managing diabetic retinopathy. Regular eye exams with an ophthalmologist or optometrist allow timely intervention and appropriate treatment.

Investing in diabetic retinopathy

We’re currently funding research to investigate the early disease progression of DR to support avenues for future research and development of treatments.

We’re also funding a range of other research into diabetic retinopathy. You can read about some of our most recently funded projects below.

Projects we’re funding