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Blindness caused by Diabetes Reversible with Common Drug: Study

A prescription drug commonly used to treat age-related vision defects can also reverse vision loss caused by diabetes, says a study led by an Indian-origin physician.

The drug, Ranibizumab is sold by US-based Genentech under the trade name, Lucentis, to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD) that causes loss of the ability to see straight ahead and may make it more difficult to read, drive, or perform other daily activities.

“We found that Ranibizumab can save the sight of thousands of working-age individuals suffering from diabetic eye disease, as standard treatments such as laser are not as effective,” said Rohit Varma, lead author and director of the University of Southern California (USC) Eye Institute, where the research trial was conducted.

Diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema are the two main causes of vision loss in working-age adults in the United States, according to the National Eye Institute and the new findings can bring down the numbers considerably, said the researchers.

The model developed by Varma and his team is based on a population-based one where by administering 0.3 milligrams of ranibizumab every month to diabetics with macular edema reduced the vision impairment by 45%, bringing down the cases of legal blindness by 75%.

It was tested on 37,000 adults with diabetic macular edema in the US, with support from Genentech. The findings have been published in the journal Ophthalmology.

Rohit Varma. Photo by Van Urfalian

Rohit Varma. Photo by Van Urfalian

Rohit Varma said his own experience motivated him to conduct research on eye and vision loss. When Varma’s son needed glasses, Varma had no idea until the boy’s school notified him.

“That highlighted the problem to me: If even I didn’t notice vision problems, how would people not related to an ophthalmologist get the care they need?” he told the USC blog. “One of the interesting things we found in our study was that 90 percent of children who had a need for an eye exam had never been seen by an eye doctor. There’s a real need for getting better school vision screenings to identify these vulnerable children.”

An expert in glaucoma, he helped pioneer the development of imaging techniques that aid in the early diagnosis of glaucomatous optic nerve damage. He has also worked on developing pressure sensors and drainage devices to be implanted inside the eye, with the potential to control or improve glaucoma.

While all medical research seeks to make a difference in people’s lives, Varma is proud that ophthalmology has a unique ability to change a patient’s day-to-day quality of life. “We are fortunate in ophthalmology that we have some of the most impactful surgical procedures, like cataract surgery, that bring back vision people had lost,” Varma says.(With inputs from IANS)

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