Scientist Working To Break Vicious Cycle Causing Vision Loss In Diabetes.

The hallmark high glucose of the disease causes inflammation that produces free radicals that cause inflammation that produces more free radicals, explains Dr. Manuela Bartoli, vision scientist at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University.

If that's not bad enough, the body's endogenous system for dealing with free radicals also is dramatically impacted by diabetes, said Bartoli, who recently received a $1.8 million grant from the National Eye Institute to try to bolster that system and interrupt the destructive cycle.

Nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes, according to the National Diabetes Foundation, and nearly half those individuals will develop diabetic retinopathy, according to the National Eye Institute.

Culprit free radicals are actually normal byproducts of the body's constant use of oxygen and, despite their derivative status, also are important signaling molecules in the body. Problems result when there are too many, like in diabetes, and their natural tendency to bond starts wreaking havoc on cells and DNA. In fact, excessive levels are thought to be a major contributor to a wide variety of diseases as well as aging. 

"As the ancients said: 'The eyes are the mirror of the soul.' We also know that whatever happens in the eye is an expression of what is happening in the rest of the body," Bartoli said. "We want to better understand the causes of inflammation in the eye in diabetes and find better ways to manage it as well as byproducts such as uric acid. Ultimately, of course, we hope to protect sight."

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