Diabetic Eye Disease

HMS Ophthalmology Center of ExcellenceCenter of Excellence

Example of Diabetic Eye Disease

Lloyd Paul Aiello, MD, PhD
Dean Eliott, MD
See a list of Diabetic Eye Disease faculty


The Diabetic Eye Disease Center of Excellence aims to advance available treatments for diabetic retinopathy. Researchers are working to identify risk factors for diabetes and diabetic retinopathy, and evaluate novel approaches to therapy that aim to preserve and restore vision for patients with diabetes.

The Diabetic Eye Disease Team also oversees a broad program of clinical trials as part of the Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network (DRCR.net), based at the Beetham Eye Institute at Joslin Diabetes Center. The DRCR.net currently includes 115 participating sites across the country and more than 9,000 enrolled study participants.

How Does Diabetes Affect the Eyes?

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—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 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 represents a significant global socioeconomic and healthcare problem.

Major Research Breakthroughs

Our researchers are continually advancing available treatments for diabetic retinopathy, including identifying risk factors for diabetes and diabetic retinopathy and evaluating novel approaches to therapy. In the last 20 years, they have:

  • Helped to create and lead the DRCR.net, a National Institutes of Health-sponsored consortium of North American clinical sites performing research in diabetic eye disease and other retinal diseases
  • Performed multicenter studies to establish intravitreal vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) inhibitors as first-line therapy for diabetic macular edema (DME) and demonstrated that VEGF inhibitors are a safe and efficacious alternative to panretinal photocoagulation for the treatment of proliferative diabetic retinopathy
  • Investigated telemedicine for diabetic retinopathy as a means of improving patient access and compliance
  • Discovered plasma kallikrein as a VEGF-independent key mediator of DME and developed injectable and oral compounds in current DME clinical trials
  • Used data from the Joslin 50-Year Medalists, to identify RBP3, a neural retinal secreted protein as a protective factor against advanced diabetic retinopathy

2020 Vision: Promising Areas for Future Research

Using multimodal retinal imaging, investigators hope to develop artificial intelligence algorithms that can help predict diabetic eye disease progression and treatment response.

View the news feed for the recent updates in diabetic eye disease research