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Scientists target receptor to treat diabetic retinopathy

Augusta, Ga. - Like a daily pill to lower cholesterol can reduce heart attack and stroke risk, an easy-to-use agent that reduces eye inflammation could help save the vision of diabetics, scientists say.

In fact, a receptor already targeted with high doses of niacin to decrease bad cholesterol levels and raise good ones, appears to also be an effective mark for these patients, said Dr. Pamela Martin, biochemist at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University.

Martin is Principal Investigator on a new $1.875 million grant from the National Eye Institute to further pursue this potential treatment for diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness in American adults.

She's talking about Gpr109a, a receptor first found on the surface of fat cells, where its targeted by niacin to improve cholesterol levels. More recently, Martin also found the receptor on the surface of cells of the retinal pigment epithelium, or RPE. The RPE is a tight group of cells at the back of the eye with many jobs, including protecting the eye from intruders like viruses, pulling desirables like oxygen and nutrients out of blood, and clearing waste.

RPE transporters do a lot of this heavy lifting and, while the role of Gpr109a isn't crystal clear, Martin has shown what happens when it's missing. When her research team deletes the receptor from the retina of non-diabetic mice, the rodents quickly develop the classic inflammation, retinal cell damage and cell death that occurs in patients with diabetic retinopathy. In fact, telltale inflammatory markers are 10 to 20 times higher in the eyes of these rodents, a good indicator of the receptor's role in regulating inflammation, Martin said.

MCG scientists also have early evidence that moderately activating the receptor in a diabetic retina inhibits inflammation. They suspect that, as it does on fat cells, it also helps regulate cholesterol in the retina and may even reduce t

Contact: Toni Baker
Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University

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