The injectable drug that leads to huge improvements in the eyes of people with diabetic macular edema has proven to also be effective for people with proliferative diabetic retinopathy. A new clinical trial involving more than 300 people has shown that Lucentis, the injectable drug, not only treats macular edema, but also is as effective as laser surgery for proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Treatment for both diseases also can often restore vision.
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye complication and the leading cause of blindness in working age Americans. It causes vision loss in two principal ways: macular edema occurs when blood vessels in the back of the eye are damaged and leak causing the retina to swell; proliferative diabetic retinopathy happens when diseased blood vessels grow in attempts to provide more blood to the retina but causing scar tissue, bleeding and vision loss.
Lloyd Paul Aiello, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Beetham Eye Institute (BEI) and Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, and George King, M.D., Chief Scientific Officer at Joslin Diabetes Center and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, were part of a team that discovered that an injectable treatment stops the action of the molecule that causes diabetic retinopathy. That drug has been used to treat macular edema since clinical trials proved its effectiveness in 2010. The new study is the first trial to show that the injectable treatment can be successfully used for proliferative diabetic retinopathy also.
The trial included 305 people. Many of the participants needed treatment in both eyes, leading to a total of 394 eyes evaluated in the trial. The participants were randomized to either get traditional laser treatment or the Lucentis injections. They were then monitored for a period of two years. When the trial was finished, the Lucentis group showed improved vision overall, less development of macular edema, little need for laser and far less loss of peripheral vision than the laser treatment.
Follow-up studies will confirm these findings and test to see if providing injection treatments earlier in the course of diabetic eye disease would prevent the development of both proliferative diabetic retinopathy and macular edema.