A Genuine Game Changer: Injectable Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy

SriniVas Sadda, MD

Director, Artificial Intelligence
Professor of Ophthalmology, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine

The big news in November about the breakthrough in treatment of diabetic retinopathy deserves all the buzz and headlines it’s generating. The conclusive evidence that an injectable drug is just as effective, and not nearly as damaging, as the standard laser treatment favored since the 1970s is a game changer. We can look forward to deploying this treatment and to the benefits it will have for so many of our patients. But I’d also like to devote a few words to acknowledging the kind of work and wisdom it takes to make monumental advances that have the potential to help millions of people.

This study was conducted by the not-for-profit Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network, a consortium of leaders in ophthalmic research and treatment, including investigators here, at Doheny. The distinction is important because the trials were not tied to any pharmaceutical or for-profit businesses; but instead funded by the NIH’s National Eye Institute. Pharmaceutical companies could provide medicines evaluated in the studies at the request of the network, but they had no say in the conduct of the study. The only motive for the network was to perform good science to help patients. The science was rigorous and the terms of the study were comprehensive. Across the nation, 55 clinics enrolled 355 patients (394 eyes).

The drug ranibizumab was injected into the eyes, successfully controlling the proliferation of blood vessels. Typically, this condition can lead to bleeding or retinal detachment, and, eventual blindness. But with the injectable, the proliferation of blood vessels was controlled, without causing loss of night and or side vision, a damaging effect of laser treatments.

We know that 7.7 million Americans, and over 300 million people the world over, suffer from diabetic retinopathy. Those numbers make this news monumental.

For researchers like me, and my colleagues, the promise of a new break-through in our treatments for these patients keeps us focused. We here at Doheny are working intently on continuing to find better approaches to take care of our patients with diabetes. Blindness from diabetic retinopathy is largely preventable, with early detection and treatment. Dr. Irena Tsui at Doheny is leading our work in developing better systems to identify patients needing treatment — taking advantage of advances in retinal imaging.

It’s exciting to share this news and to let you know that we believe there will be much progress in how we approach diabetic retinopathy in the next few years. I promise to keep you apprised in this space, and I will continue to introduce you to inspired advances at Doheny, and in the field.


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