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Experimental drug inhibits or prevents diabetic eye disease in Wilmer Eye Institute study

In mice and human cell models, the drug 32-134D lowered protein levels known to contribute to diabetic macular edema and diabetic retinopathy
May 25, 2023
Artistic rendering of retinal blood vessels with blood vessel damage.

Artistic rendition of diabetic eye disease highlighting vascular changes (i.e., retinal neovascularization) observed in patients with proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Image credit: Isabella S. Sodhi, McDonogh School

Researchers at Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine say they have evidence that an experimental drug may prevent or slow vision loss in people with diabetes. The results are from a study that used mouse as well as human retinal organoids and eye cell lines.

 Results of the study, published May 25 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, show that a compound called 32-134D, previously shown to slow liver tumor growth in mice, prevented diabetic retinal vascular disease by decreasing levels of a protein called HIF, or hypoxia-inducible factor. Doses of 32-134D also appeared to be safer than another treatment that also targets HIF and is under investigation to treat diabetic eye disease.

To test 32-134D, researchers dosed multiple types of human retinal cell lines associated with the expression of proteins that promote blood vessel production and leakiness. When they measured genes regulated by HIF in cells treated with 32-134D, they found that their expression had returned to near-normal levels, which is enough to halt new blood vessel creation and maintain blood vessels’ structural integrity.

Researchers also tested 32-134D in two different adult mouse models of diabetic eye disease. The researchers observed diminished levels of HIF, and also saw that the drug effectively inhibited the creation of new blood vessels or blocked vessel leakage, therefore slowing progression of the animals’ eye disease.