Low-dose antibiotic could help slow diabetic retinopathy

Posted on 20 May 2014

JDRF funded researchers have found that doxycycline, a type of antibiotic, may slow down or delay the course of diabetic retinopathy.news_eye diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a potential complication of type 1 and type 2 diabetes that involves damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina, at the back of the eye. In the worst cases this can cause the body to grow new blood vessels into the retina; this is called proliferative diabetic retinopathy, and can end in vision loss or blindness.

The best way to prevent diabetic retinopathy is to maintain good blood glucose levels and to have routine medical check-ups with the ophthalmologist. In the case of proliferative diabetic retinopathy, the abnormal blood vessels can be treated with a laser that shrinks the blood vessels and reduces the risk of blindness by 90 per cent. However vision loss cannot be restored once it has been lost, which is why it is important to catch diabetic retinopathy early.

In this clinical trial the researchers, from Penn State College in Pennsylvania, USA, recruited 30 patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes and at least one eye affected by retinopathy. Half of them received a daily dose of doxycycline, while the other half were given a placebo, and all 30 were followed up for two years.

At the end of the trial, the participants’ vision was assessed using a frequency doubling perimeter device, which measures retinal function by analysing the sensitivity of certain nerve cells in the eye.

The researchers found that half of the patients who were given doxycycline significantly improved the sensitivity of their retina, tested with the frequency doubling perimeter.

This finding, published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, could lead to a new treatment for one of the most common long-term eye-related complications of diabetes. A lot of research still needs to be done in this field, but the results are promising.

JDRF is funding several projects researching ways to better treat diabetic retinopathy. In the UK, we are part-funding work carried out by a company called KalVista in Southampton to develop a new drug to treat a type of retinopathy called diabetic macular oedema.

‘This work is still in its early stages, but we look forward to seeing the results of continued exploration. A successful treatment for diabetic retinopathy would mean that people with diabetes would no longer need to be afraid of blindness or vision loss,’ said Helen Albert, acting Head of Research Communication at JDRF.