Diabetic Eye Disease

DED logoCenter of Excellence


Harvard Medical School Department of Ophthalmology

Lloyd Paul Aiello, M.D., Ph.D.
Dean Eliott, M.D.

Because chronic hyperglycemia can have ravaging effects on blood vessels, many people with diabetes—especially those who depend on insulin injections to control blood sugar—will eventually develop vascular problems in the eye. The most common diabetic eye disease is retinopathy, which involves abnormal swelling, permeability, or growth of the retinal blood vessels. The leakage of fluid from the retinal vessels may cause edema (swelling) of the macula, which is responsible for central vision—thus leading to vision loss. According to the World Health Organization, diabetic retinopathy causes blindness in almost 5 million people worldwide. As the leading cause of vision loss in working-age adults, diabetic eye disease thus represents a significant global socioeconomic and healthcare problem. Pioneering work conducted by members of the Diabetic Eye Disease Center of Excellence demonstrated the role of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in diabetic retinopathy and the therapeutic potential of VEGF inhibitors, forming the scientific basis of current anti-VEGF therapies for diabetic macular edema. Researchers are continually advancing available treatments for diabetic retinopathy, including identifying risk factors for diabetes and diabetic retinopathy and evaluating novel approaches to therapy.

Image: Retinal vessels stained with hematoxylin and eosin. Image courtesy of Don Pottle, Confocal Microscope Facility, Schepens Eye Research Institute of Mass. Eye and Ear.