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Research Update: Link Found between Cholesterol and Diabetic Retinopathy

Researchers from Michigan State (MSU) and other universities have identified “advancements that could lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment for diabetic retinopathy, a common complication that affects the eyes.”  This multi-disciplinary research team has found that diabetes, age-related health conditions, and other disorders can, over time, result in a buildup of cholesterol in the eye’s retina. The accumulation has a tendency to “crystallize” and contribute to the onset of diabetic retinopathy. Because crystallized deposits are very reflective, they can be observed in images of the retina. This is key, since securing these images can be achieved through noninvasive retina evaluations and can be done by most optometrists, which creates an opportunity for earlier diagnosis for greater numbers of people. “’Retinopathy is the leading cause of preventable blindness and one of the most feared complications of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes,’” explained Julia Busik, MSU professor emeritus of physiology. “’Current treatment approaches are very invasive and are only directed at the very late stage of retinopathy.’” Researchers are pursuing what can be done to reduce cholesterol in the retina, with “hope that new treatments to address crystals formed by cholesterol could be less invasive than current options for diabetic retinopathy.” These findings were published in Diabetologia, the official journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes. Additional contributors to the study came from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Case Western University, and Western University of Health Sciences. The study was funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Read more about the announcements that “MSU researchers discover link between cholesterol and diabetic retinopathy” from NEI here and from MSU Today here. For the full report of the findings, visit the Diabetologia article stating that Cholesterol crystal formation is a unifying pathogenic mechanism in the development of diabetic retinopathy.