OHSU Participates in Drug Trial for Diabetics with Eye Problems

11/19/99    Portland, Ore.

Currently in the United States, almost 16 million people struggle with diabetes. It's a serious illness that can lead to heart disease, kidney failure and even leg amputations. However, one of the biggest fears for diabetics is the possible loss of sight. Ninety percent of patients with diabetes will suffer vision loss in their lifetimes. This month, as the country observes Diabetic Eye Disease Month, the Casey Eye Institute at Oregon Health Sciences University is conducting clinical trials for an investigational drug that may help diabetic patients retain their sight.

OHSU is one of 36 institutions involved in the multi-site trial. Doctors hope the drug will prove successful in the treatment of diabetic retinopathy, a disease characterized by the uncontrolled growth of blood vessels in the retina. Because the retina is the portion of the eye that translates light signals into nerve signals for the brain, progressive scar tissue buildup causes a gradual loss of sight. In extreme cases, the condition can lead to blindness.

Currently patients with diabetic retinopathy are treated with laser surgery to slow or stop progression of the disease. In some cases, invasive surgery also is necessary. However doctors admit neither treatment is 100 percent effective. The current study will assist in determining if the drug being tested will delay or prevent progression of the effects of the disease before surgery becomes the only option.

Michael L. Klein, M.D., professor of ophthalmology, and David Wilson, M.D., associate professor of ophthalmology, both in the Casey Eye Institute at OHSU, are coordinating the study. Wilson says the drug trial is the latest attempt to preserve the vision of diabetics not only in the Northwest, but around the globe. "For years, doctors have had some success controlling diabetic retinopathy through laser surgery," said Wilson. "Now we're looking for ways to control the disease in its early stages, before surgery or laser treatment becomes necessary."