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Aston University researchers gain insight into diabetic vision problems

24 August 2004

Aston University researchers gain insight into diabetic vision problems

DIABETES is one of the major causes of vision loss and blindness in the UK. Now optometry researchers at Aston University’s new 10 million Academy of Life Sciences are to carry out a ground-breaking new study which will lead to a greater understanding of visual problems experienced by diabetics.

Their research, which is the first of its kind in the world, will measure the effects of the daily cycle of blood sugar levels on the vision of diabetic patients via detailed eye examinations. This will help scientists to gain a vital understanding of how the disease causes vision problems in diabetics and, specifically, its effects on the retinal tissue (sensitive tissue at the back of the eye) over the course of the day.

With an estimated 1.4 million diabetic sufferers in the UK the results of the research will have significant implications on the vision and the general health of a large number of people.

In order to obtain significant and reliable results, the researchers hope that a large number of diabetics will volunteer to take part in a series of six short vision assessments over a period of 12 hours. Participants may be of any age and either sex and do not need a vision problem to take part. All volunteers will receive a ?50 payment and meals on the day in thanks for their involvement.

The study, which has been organised by Helena Workman - a PhD research optometrist at the university -, is to take place in the Aston Academy of Life Sciences, a new state of the art facility for academic research and private medical care. It is the only facility of its kind in Europe and includes a centre of excellence for eye research, diagnosis and surgery. The Academy will provide sophisticated equipment for the research including a camera designed to photograph the back of the eye and measure the thickness of retinal tissue. Most hospitals and clinics do not have access to this equipment, thus indicating the importance and uniqueness of the research.

Helena explains: ?Our hope is that our research will help to provide a unique insight into diabetes as a whole and the way in which blood sugar control may affect the vision of our diabetic population in their daily lives.?

Anyone interested in volunteering for the study or requiring more information should contact Helena Workman or Dr. Sarah Hosking on 0121 204 3800 or alternatively email h.l.workman@aston.ac.uk

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Written by Babs Coombes. For further information please contact me on 0121 204 4549 or email: b.a.l.coombes@aston.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

1. Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body is not producing any, or enough of, the hormone insulin. There are two main types of diabetes; Type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent diabetes) develops when the body is unable to produce any insulin and usually appears in people below the age of 30. It can only be treated with regular insulin injections. Type 2 diabetes (non insulin dependent diabetes) develops when the body can still make insulin but not enough, or when the body makes insulin that does not work properly. This type of diabetes usually occurs in people over the age of 30, particularly in obese, South Asian and African-Caribbean people and can be treated by diet, exercise and tablets or by diet, exercise and insulin injections.*
*Source: www.diabetes.org.uk

2. Diabetes affects the vision usually due to a condition called diabetic retinopathy. Over several years a high blood glucose level can weaken and damage the tiny blood vessels next to the retina (the sensitive area at the back of the eye). This can result in various problems:
? Small swellings in the blood vessels (microaneurysms)
? Small leaks of fluid from damaged blood vessels (exudates)
? Small bleeds from damaged blood vessels (haemorrhages)
? Blocked blood vessels causing blood and oxygen supplies to become cut off to some parts of the retina.
This can cause damage to the cells of the retina causing vision problems.

3. The retina is the sensitive area at the back of the eye made up of two types of specialised cells ? rods and cones. These cells are hit by the light coming in through the lens of the eye and send messages to the brain about what you are seeing, via the optic nerve.

4. Aston Academy of Life Sciences is a uniquely equipped medical facility offering diagnostic and surgical services for eye care and brain imaging and is an unrivalled European venture. This state-of-the-art facility is located on the Aston University campus in the heart of Birmingham City Centre and includes two operating suites, eight specialised consulting rooms, an MRI suite and wet labs. The Academy, which fuses academic research and private medical care will become a centre of excellence for eye research, diagnosis and surgery within the UK.

5. Tests involve reading test charts and having non-invasive retinal photographs taken. No eye drops are required and volunteers can drive home after the study. They will also have their blood sugar levels taken with a finger prick test.�

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