diabetic retinopathy

A recent trial has potentially discovered a more effective treatment for the most common form of diabetic eye disease: diabetic retinopathy. If successful, the research could provide the first major breakthrough in retinopathy treatment for 40 years.

The trial, which was conducted by the Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network (DRCR.net), compared the drug Lucentis (ranibizumab) to the “gold standard” of retinopathy treatment for 40 years: panretinal or scatter photocoagulation.

“These latest results from the DRCR Network provide crucial evidence for a safe and effective alternative to laser therapy against proliferative diabetic retinopathy,” said Paul A. Sieving, MD, PhD, director of NIH’s National Eye Institute (NEI), which funded the study.

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the most diabetes complications, and a leading cause of blindness. It occurs when blood vessels in the back of the eye swell up and leak fluid into the rear of the eye. Retinopathy can also occur when abnormal blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. If caught early, diabetic retinopathy can be treated, but left untreated it can lead to blindness.

Lucentis, which is currently used to treat diabetic macular edema, was tested on 305 participants. Among the group of participants, 394 eyes had been diagnosed with proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Participants were given either laser therapy – the common treatment for retinopathy – or Lucentis.

After two years, those participants given Lucentis improved their vision significantly. They could read, on average, roughly half a line higher on an eye exam chart. The participants given laser treatment experience no significant improvements to their vision.

“Lucentis should be considered a viable treatment option for people with proliferative diabetic retinopathy, especially for individuals needing anti-vascular endothelial growth factor for diabetic macular edema,” said Jeffrey G. Gross, MD, of the Carolina Retina Center in Columbia, South Carolina, who chaired the study.

The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They will be presented on November 13, 2015, at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in Las Vegas.