Diabetic retinopathy affects an estimated 4.2 million Americans ages 40 and over and nearly 900,000 have a vision-threatening form of the disease. Diabetic retinopathy is a relatively common complication of both Type I and Type II diabetes and nearly 80% of Type I diabetics are diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy.
In diabetic retinopathy, retinal blood vessels break down and leak into the eye, resulting in vision loss and/or blindness. In late stages of the disease, abnormal blood vessels grow to replace damaged vessels. These new and fragile blood vessels can cause the retina to detach from the eye, leading to vision loss and often blindness.
A further complication of diabetic retinopathy is the leakage of blood or vascular fluid into the center of the macula, the area of the eye where sharp vision occurs. The macula swells as the amount of fluid increases and vision is blurred, causing what is known as diabetic macular edema (DME). About half of diabetic retinopathy patients also develop DME, increasing their risk of total vision loss.
There is no current cure for diabetic retinopathy or DME. Though current treatments aim to halt disease progression through the use of multiple laser surgeries targeting damaged blood vessels, many patients still lose peripheral vision. Advances in treatment are needed to more effectively reduce the risk of vision loss.