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Why do some type 1 diabetics avoid eye disease?

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a disease that causes irregular changes in the blood vessels of the retina, including swelling, leakage of fluid, or abnormal growth of new blood vessels. Approximately 90 percent of people who have type 1 diabetes for 20 years or longer develop this condition, and it is currently the leading cause of vision loss among working age adults in developed countries. However, researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center are studying individuals who have had type 1 diabetes for at least 50 years and yet show minor or no signs of diabetic retinopathy. These individuals are known as “50-year Medalists.” While the researchers are still trying to understand why this group did not develop advanced diabetic retinopathy, there are certain clues that may eventually help reveal the answers. It appears that it is slowed DR progression, not regression of the disease, which prevents the onset of severe vision loss. Additionally, since the Medalists have been rather unaffected by such a common complication, the investigators infer that there are genetic and/or biological factors that curtail the advancement of DR and protect these patients. Hopefully, researchers can identify these factors and use their findings to help prevent the visual problems associated with diabetic retinopathy.

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