Skip to main content

JDRF is undergoing a transformation.
We are becoming Breakthrough T1D in October.

breakthrought1d logo
Complications

African Caribbean people with type 1 diabetes are more at risk of sight loss

New research from Kings College London found that African Caribbean people with type 1 diabetes are more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to sight loss.
JDRF logo placeholder for author profile picture
Kate Lawton 18 April 2023

African Caribbean people with type 1 diabetes are more at risk of sight loss and diabetic retinopathy

New research from Kings College London found that African Caribbean people with type 1 diabetes are more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to sight loss. The research study is published in a paper in the journal Diabetes Care.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is damage to the cells at the back of the eye, called the retina. These cells convert light into electric signals to send to the brain, so are crucial for sight. Diabetic retinopathy happens when high (and potentially low) blood sugar levels damage the tiny blood vessels that supply the retina. Diabetic retinopathy takes years to develop and can eventually lead to sight loss and blindness.

Lead researcher Dr Janaka Karalliedde said, “We undertook this study because there are no previous studies in people with type 1 diabetes of the potential impact of ethnicity on diabetic retinopathy. Our novel observation that people with type 1 diabetes of African Caribbean ethnicity are at 39% greater risk of sight threating retinopathy independent of conventional risk factors suggests that enhanced retinal surveillance and risk factor control may be needed in such higher risk groups.”

What happened in the study?

Dr Karalliedde and his team recruited people from South London with type 1 diabetes from a range of ethnicities who had no signs of retinopathy. They monitored their participants over six years to see who went on to develop diabetic retinopathy. Then they looked for similarities in the people with diabetic retinopathy to find out which people were most at risk.

Why are African Caribbean people more at risk of diabetic retinopathy?

The results showed that the African Caribbean people in the study attended the same number of eye screenings as the Caucasian people, who were at the lowest risk of diabetic retinopathy. This means missed eye screenings isn’t to blame for the difference in risk. The researchers also considered other risk factors of diabetic retinopathy such as unstable blood glucose levels, socioeconomic status and high blood pressure, but none of these factors affected the results. Therefore, the researchers are keen to explore the link between ethnicity and diabetic retinopathy further.

More support needed for people at greater risk of sight loss

The researchers warn that more thorough eye exams are needed for groups at higher risk of diabetic retinopathy. It’s also important that African Caribbean people are supported to reduce other risk factors of diabetic retinopathy including high blood pressure and cholesterol to limit their overall risk.

Hilary Nathan, Director of Policy and Communications at JDRF, said:

“Sight loss is devastating. This is important research because it helps us begin to understand how rates of type 1 diabetes disease progression can be more aggressive across different ethnicity patient populations. Findings like these can help evidence and design more personalised treatment pathways, helping to prevent sight loss and disability.”

African Caribbean people also at higher risk of kidney disease

The same research group also published a paper in 2022 which found that African Caribbean people are more at risk of developing diabetic kidney disease. Find out more about their research into diabetic kidney disease.