“The vision loss occurs because high blood sugar damages blood vessels, causing leakage and bleeding,” said principal investigator, Professor Rajashekhar Gangaraju at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute and the Indiana Center for Vascular Biology and Medicine. “The blood vessels are no longer able to carry important nutrients to the retina in the eye; to compensate, more blood vessels are made, but they are fragile and also leak, causing a cyclical environment and worsening damage.”
Preliminary research shows that stem cells isolated from fat cells and injected into a rodent eye regenerate and repair the damaged cells and improve vision.
Dr. Gangaraju believes the stem cells in fat tissue, also known as adipose stem cells, may serve as a natural source for regenerating damaged blood vessels in the diabetic retina.
Human phase I clinical trials using adipose stem cells, which are readily available through liposuction, are now being planned.