Scientists at Queen's University Belfast are hoping to develop a novel approach that could save the sight of millions of diabetes sufferers using adult stem cells.
Currently millions of diabetics worldwide are at risk of sight loss due to a condition called Diabetic Retinopathy. This is when high blood sugar causes the blood vessels in the eye to become blocked or to leak. Failed blood flow harms the retina and leads to vision impairment and if left untreated can lead to blindness.
The novel REDDSTAR study (Repair of Diabetic Damage by Stromal Cell Administration) involving researchers from Queen's Centre for Vision and Vascular Science in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, will see them isolating stem cells from donors, expanding them in a laboratory setting and re-delivering them to a patient where they help to repair the blood vessels in the eye. This is especially relevant to patients with diabetes were the vessels of the retina become damaged.
At present there are very few treatments available to control the progression of diabetic complications. There are no treatments which will improve glucose levels and simultaneously treat the diabetic complication.
The -6 million EU funded research is being carried out with NUI Galway and brings together experts from Northern Ireland, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Portugal and the US.
Professor Alan Stitt, Director of the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science in Queen's and lead scientist for the project said: "The Queen's component of the REDDSTAR study involves investigating the potential of a unique stem cell population to promote repair of damaged blood vessels in the retina during diabetes. The impact could be profound for patients, because regeneration of damaged retina could prevent progression of diabetic retinopathy and reduce the risk of vision loss.