Many of you, like me, may know some one close to you that has diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is very prevalent, not only in the diabetic community but in the population as a whole. Roughly forty-five percent of diabetics are affected by diabetic retinopathy and it is among the leading causes of blindness among American adults. In this particular disease, existing blood vessels may swell, or new ones may form, both of which result in the obstruction of the retina. It is this obstruction of the retina, which is vital for human sight, that causes the blindness associated with diabetic retinopathy.
Until now, this disease has gone untreated for the most part. That is until Susanne Mohr, a researcher at Michigan State University, made a major breakthrough in identifying the primary cause of diabetic retinopathy. In her research, she has found that a protein, siah-1, is produced in the body when blood sugar levels are correspondingly high, as you would find in a diabetic. She found that the siah-1 protein could be used to indicate the levels of a different protein, glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH).
This second protein, GAPDH, is the real culprit in diabetic retinopathy. When the levels of this protein are high in the blood, they accumulate in special cells in the eyes called Müller cells. Müller cells live on the blood vessels in the retina and when these cells die, it causes the blood vessel damage in the eyes that is associated with diabetic retinopathy.
GAPDH is necessary throughout the body for energy among other things, so regulating the production of that is not possible. However, siah-1 is only produced when the blood sugar levels are high, so the regulation of that protein may be possible. Although this is one of the first studies with these results, and subsequent research is not yet known concerning the regulation of siah-1, the news is promising. This may have enormous impact in the scientific community and American society as a whole.
Justin Williams ’13