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Canadian doctors find key marker to help predict eye disease in diabetics

In this handout image provided by LOCOG, an ophthalmic medical check is carried out within the main Polyclinic located in the Athletes' Village, built for the London 2012 Olympic Games, on June 18, 2012.
In this handout image provided by LOCOG, an ophthalmic medical check is carried out within the main Polyclinic located in the Athletes' Village, built for the London 2012 Olympic Games, on June 18, 2012. LOGOC/Getty Images

TORONTO – Canadian doctors say they’ve uncovered a way to predict which diabetes patients are at risk of developing eye diseases or blindness, a dangerous side effect of diabetes.

Doctors at St. Michael’s Hospital have found a protein that they say is a marker of inflammation in the bloodstream. That protein – a high sensitivity C-reactive protein or hsCRP – is linked to eye problems in diabetics.

“This is very important because if we can measure this marker on initial diagnosis, it will help us narrow the focus of the patients who are at highest risk of losing their vision,” lead author Dr. Rajeev Muni said.

“The reality is a lot of people with diabetes don’t have regular access to an eye doctor, but if we know to measure these markers, we can closely monitor those most at risk,” he said in a statement.

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Muni is a vitreoretinal surgeon at the Toronto hospital. His findings were published Thursday in JAMA Ophthalmology.

He suggests this research offers profound help to physicians and diabetes patients: eye disease is the most common complication of diabetes. Now patients at risk can be identified, so they’re checked regularly by their eye doctor and receive more aggressive treatment.

Eye disease that afflicts diabetics

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-aged people in North America. Diabetics manage their blood sugar levels, and when those levels increase they cause damage to blood vessels all over the body, including the eye.

In diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels in the retina are damaged or they may swell and breakdown in the process. At first, blood vessels can leak blood into the eye, blurring vision. But as the disease progresses, some vessels that nourish the retina are blocked.

The side effect usually occurs in both eyes, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Key marker could intercept eye disease

In Muni’s research, he and his team reviewed existing studies to identify four possible markers of inflammation in the blood that could be linked to eye complications in diabetes.

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After scouring the studies, they noticed hsCRP could help predict the development of eye disease, such as diabetic macular edema.

Even after adjusting for factors – age, duration of diabetes, blood sugar control, BMI and smoking status – the link between the protein and eye disease remained.

Those with higher levels of hsCRP in their blood could also develop vision loss sooner, Muni’s findings say.

He says he hopes his findings will help doctors so they can test for hsCRP proteins in the blood and flag those who may be at a higher risk of eye disease.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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