Researchers find the enzyme at the heart of retinopathy caused by type 1 or type 2 diabetes

One of the greatest fears of most of those with type 1 or type 2 diabetes is that they will eventually suffer diabetic retinopathy and lose their vision. However, a team of researchers has found that inhibition or removal of certain enzymes may prevent the process that eventually leads to vision loss.

Retinopathy occurs when new blood vessels form in the retina of the eye. These vessels are unstable and may bleed easily, which can lead to the detachment of the retina and blindness. It is common among individuals who have certain chronic diseases, including diabetes.

However, researchers from the Medical College of Georgia reported in the journal Diabetes that the removal of the enzyme 12-lipoxygenase can prevent this from happening.

They conducted laboratory tests on a molecular process that causes inflammation and leads to the production of chemicals that spur new blood vessels to grow. This can be a positive thing in individuals who have conditions like heart disease. However, when it takes place in the eyes, it is more harmful.

The investigators found that the entire process relies on the 12-lipoxygenase enzyme. When it is present, the reaction continues, resulting in retinopathy-like conditions. However, when it is inhibited or removed completely, the process stops.

Taking the experiment one step further, the researchers tested a group of participants for the presence of the enzyme. They found that those who already had retinopathy had much higher levels of it.

"This led us to conclude that if we can target or inhibit this enzyme's pathway, we might be able to prevent or treat diseases of ischemic retinopathy," said Mohamed Al-Shabrawey, who led the study.

He added that he hopes the findings will lead to the development of new drugs that help individuals avoid the condition entirely.