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Progress In Preventing Eye Disease In Diabetes

A research team lead by Mark A. Greiner, M.D., Assistant Professor, Cornea and External Diseases in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and member of the FOEDRC, at the University of Iowa is doing interesting work in understanding how diabetes affects the Cornea.

The cornea is the clear front part of the eye, which needs to be clear for optimal vision. The inner corneal layer, or corneal endothelium, may be particularly vulnerable to damage from diabetes mellitus. At present, we do not fully understand the relationship between diabetes progression and cell damage in this layer, or how this disease influences corneal transplant procedures. Due to the increasing percentage of diabetic individuals in our population, there is a critical need to understand how diabetes impacts the corneal endothelium in individuals seeking treatment for vision loss.

Dr. Greiner’s team is testing the theory that diabetic damage to small vessels in the front part of the eye causes harmful proteins to leak into the fluid that bathes the inner corneal cells. This process is believed to  reduce the ability of these cells use oxygen to make energy. As diabetes worsens, it is most likely that the risk of improper function and damage to corneal endothelial cells increases. Dr. Greiner’s group has developed an approach for assessing the health of corneal cells by measuring the oxygen that cells consume and protein and gene markers of damage. With this approach they are now testing to understand how diabetes and its progression will impact corneal endothelial cells and cornea transplant tissue.

Results of this study will make it possible to identify individuals at greatest risk for corneal complications from diabetes, and poor outcomes after cornea transplantation due to diabetes. This research will lead to better interventions and therapies to preserve or restore endothelial function in diabetic individuals, protect the supply of donor corneal tissue, and improve transplant outcomes. The project will result in improved outcomes of care for patients and reduced health care costs associated with diabetes-related eye damage.

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