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New Research Helps Understand The 
Connection Between Diabetes And Blindness.
By: Patrick Mansfield | U.S. Health Alerts

Diabetes And Blindness

New Research Helps Understand the Connection Between Diabetes and Blindness.

Diabetic retinopathy, a debilitating complication of diabetes, is the leading cause of impaired vision and blindness among American adults of working age. This disease is caused by high blood glucose levels that create abnormal, tiny blood vessels in the eyes. Several notable studies have proven that strict glycemic control is capable of reducing the progression and development of diabetic retinopathy. Although firm control over glucose exhibits benefits, it is not completely understood why high blood glucose levels negatively affect blood vessel development in the first place. 

Michael D. Dennis, Ph.D., an American Diabetes Association Pathway to Stop Diabetes awardee, is considering the possibility that high blood glucose controls which particular genes get transformed into proteins in a way that leads to retinopathy.

Dr. Dennis' laboratory discovered a molecular switch that controls which proteins are formed in the retina. He and his researchers determined that the high blood sugar levels that occur in conjunction with the disease appear to cause a particular group of genes to be produced into proteins. One of the proteins activated during this process is "vascular endothelial growth factor" (VEGF). VEGF is capable of causing blood vessels in the retina to multiply and develop abnormally which then leads to the development of retinopathy. 

A key factor, discovered by Dr. Dennis, involved in this process, is a protein known as "4E-BP1". Diabetic laboratory animals display this protein in higher levels in their eyes. Dr. Dennis created laboratory mice that did not possess the 4E-BP1 protein in order to compare them to mice without the 4E-BP1 protein and discovered the following:

Diabetic animals lacking the 4E-BP1 protein did not experience blindness
Mice with the 4E-BP1 did experience vision impairment

In addition, the researchers tested a drug aimed at lowering blood glucose levels in diabetic animals. It was discovered that using this particular drug to lower blood glucose levels also lowered the amount of 4E-BP1 present in the retina. Researchers determined this indicated a direct link between glucose levels in the blood and how much 4E-BP1 the retina contained. 

Upon this discovery, Dr. Dennis and his fellow researchers decided to investigate the mechanisms by which 4E-BP1 regulates high blood sugar levels. Their studies indicated that high levels of glucose in the blood hinder 4E-BP1 from being processed normally. Potentially, this is a crucial step leading to the switch that favors the creation of proteins in the retina that contribute to the beginning of diabetic retinopathy. 

This exciting discovery highlights a new group of molecules to research further in hopes of developing cutting-edge therapies for diabetic retinopathy.
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