Drug beats lasers to treat diabetic eye disease

"Ranibizumab can save the sight of thousands of working-age individuals suffering from diabetic eye disease, as standard treatments such as laser are not as effective," says Rohit Varma. (Credit: Kate Ter Haar/Flickr)

A prescription drug commonly used to treat age-related vision loss appears to also reverse vision loss in some people with diabetes.

Diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema are the leading causes of vision loss in working-age adults in the United States, according to the National Eye Institute.

Laser surgery is the standard treatment for advanced stages of the disease, characterized by blurred vision, but previous research has shown that only 30 percent of patients saw improvement in their vision.

Better than lasers

“We found that ranibizumab can save the sight of thousands of working-age individuals suffering from diabetic eye disease, as standard treatments such as laser are not as effective,” says Rohit Varma,  professor and chair of ophthalmology at the Keck School of Medicine at University of Southern California and director of the USC Eye Institute.

For the study, published online in the journal Ophthalmology, researchers developed a population-based model that suggests that administering 0.3 milligrams of ranibizumab every four weeks to patients with diabetic macular edema would reduce the number of cases of vision impairment by 45 percent, or 5,134 individuals.

The drug could further reduce the number of cases of legal blindness by 75 percent, or 1,275 people.

The model was based on the approximately 37,000 Hispanic and non-Hispanic white adults with diabetic macular edema in the United States for whom ranibizumab treatment could be used.

Because other race and ethnic groups were not included in the study, the treatment may benefit even more people than study results show.

Ranibizumab is manufactured and marketed by Genentech Inc. under the trade name Lucentis. The study was supported in part by Genentech Inc.

Source: USC