Research offers improved understanding of the biology of eye complications caused by diabetes  

Key Takeaways

  • A recent paper sheds light on the mechanisms that cause eye damage in as many as 80% of people who have had diabetes for several decades.
  • The advance in understanding the basic biology behind the causes of diabetic eye disease could have potential therapeutic implications.

The human body needs energy to work. This energy is produced by small “batteries” inside the cells called mitochondria. In healthy people, damaged mitochondria are removed and quickly replaced by new ones, a little like replacing an ineffective battery. This keeps the body working well, including nerves, blood vessels and the immune system. However, in diabetes, this process of mitochondrial turnover is impaired. Consequently, damaged mitochondria accumulate in the retinas of diabetic people, putting them at risk of vision loss from diabetic retinopathy by causing inflammatory and nerve damage. 

A team of researchers from the University of Birmingham used retina samples from diabetic donors and innovative mouse models to explore why mitochondrial turnover is impaired in diabetic retinopathy.  They discovered that hyperconnectivity of mitochondria in the retina is to blame. By mimicking this process in retinal cells, they next generated a novel drug discovery platform. Using the new platform, they discovered that a drug called Kinetin Riboside may be capable of reactivating mitochondrial turnover to improve their function in diabetes. Early mouse studies have shown promise that this drug has potential to prevent nerve deterioration in the retina. Further research would be beneficial, to find out whether the drug could have potential for treating patients with diabetic retinopathy. The results were published in Nature Communications.

Dr. Jose Romero Hombrebueno, who led the investigation, commented, “Since the onset of diabetic retinopathy cannot currently be prevented, there is an urgent need to develop safe and effective therapies for the management of early disease. This work goes some way to doing that by uncovering the mechanisms behind the damage caused by diabetic retinopathy.” 

Source: University of Birmingham, Medical Xpress, March 12, 2024; see source article