Focus on Health: Diabetic Eye Treatment

For decades, laser therapy has been used to treat one of the most feared complications of diabetes.

A new study tested a different kind of treatment using an injectable medication to see if it would work just as well.

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision loss in patients with diabetes.

“The most severe form of diabetic retinopathy is called proliferative diabetic retinopathy. There’s a development of abnormal scar tissue and blood vessels that are tugging on the retina,” said Dr. Lee M. Jampol, Northwestern University.

Laser therapy is the standard treatment to stop the vessels from leaking.

“It’s not an ideal treatment because it can affect your side vision. It can affect your adjustment to dark and in some cases can make your vision worse,” said Dr. Jampol.

Dr. Jampol and co-authors studied more than 300 patients with this severe form of diabetic retinopathy.

Patients either received standard laser therapy or treatment with a newer medication called ranibizumab, which was injected directly into the eye.

In total, researchers treated almost 400 eyes.

Outcomes, especially vision loss, were compared at two years.

“Over the course of the two years the patients receiving the injections of the medication did somewhat better than the ones that got the laser,” said Dr. Jampol.

The study appears in JAMA, Journal of the American Medical Association.

“It had less side effects. The peripheral vision stayed about the same in the medication group, but it was diminished in the patients that had the laser treatment. There are other changes that occur in the retina with swelling of the back of the retina and we know that the injections help to prevent that better than the laser treatment,” said Dr. Jampol.

Routine eye exams helped identify Michael Graff’s retinopathy.

Today, he sees his ophthalmologist regularly because maintaining his vision is vital. “I’m an artist. It’s very important. I couldn’t imagine being without it,” said Graff.

“So when the patient goes in now to their doctor with proliferative diabetic retinopathy there’s two choices, where before there was only one,” said Dr. Jampol.

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