Researchers uncover process that contributes to blindness in people with diabetes

Discovery could lead to new treatments for diabetic retinopathy, says Queen’s University Belfast team

Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) say they have uncovered a key process that contributes to vision loss and blindness in people with diabetes.

Their findings could lead to new treatments that can be used before any irreversible vision loss has occurred, they say.


The ability of the blood vessels in the retina to maintain blood flow at a steady level is called blood flow auto-regulation. The disruption of this process is one of the earliest effects of diabetes in the retina.

The breakthrough made by the QUB researchers pinpoints the cause of these early changes to the retina.

According to the study, published in the US journal JCI Insight, the loss of blood flow auto-regulation during diabetes is caused by the disruption of a protein called TRPV2.

Common complication

Disruption of blood flow auto-regulation even in the absence of diabetes causes damage closely resembling that seen in diabetic retinopathy, they found.

Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes that occurs when high blood sugar levels damage the retina. There are no current treatments that prevent the condition advancing, beyond the careful management of diabetes. As a result, a significant proportion of people with diabetes still progress to the vision-threatening complications of the disease.

The researchers say these findings may inform the development of new treatments that preserve vision in people with diabetes.

“By identifying TRPV2 as a key protein involved in diabetes-related vision loss, we have a new target and opportunity to develop treatments that halt the advancement of diabetic retinopathy,” said Prof Tim Curtis, deputy director at the welcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times