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Behind the headlines: Eye clinics can’t cope with demand for sight saving drugs

27 September 2012

You may have seen reports in the newspapers this week that eye clinics cannot cope with demand for sight saving drugs.

The article refers to people with a condition called wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and states that they cannot get the drugs they need in time. As eye disease is a known complication of type 1 diabetes, does this have any implications for people with type 1?

Thankfully, no. Wet AMD is caused when blood vessels in the eye leak and affect vision. In this way it is similar to diabetic eye disease, but wet AMD progresses much, much faster.

For wet AMD there is a really short window of a few weeks where people need to be treated if their doctors are to prevent vision loss. The drugs used to treat wet AMD are similar to those used to treat diabetic eye disease, so you may see Avastin or Lucentis mentioned in articles about this subject. But in wet AMD, these drugs are only effective in the very short time before scar tissue has built up. The problem highlighted in press reports this week is that eye clinics have a backlog of people waiting to be seen so some people are not getting the drugs in time.

Because diabetic eye disease develops much more slowly than wet AMD, there are signs that it is developing years before any vision problems occur. Because the window in which treatment can begin is much larger for people with type 1, the backlog issues that some clinics are experiencing should not significantly affect the care of people with type 1.

Diabetic eye disease can develop in people who have had type 1 for a long time. The risk of developing eye disease is linked to the difficulty in controlling blood glucose levels, because prolonged periods of high blood glucose leads to damage to the small blood vessels in the eye. The risk of developing long term complications of living with type 1 is falling as our understanding of how to control glucose levels in the body grows, but as people with type 1 can still develop these complications JDRF is committed to developing new treatments specifically for these long term complications of type 1, through our ‘treat’ research pathway.

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