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Cedars-Sinai researchers have made a breakthrough in understanding how diabetes affects eye wound healing, uncovering for the first time two cornea-related disease changes.

Scientists find ways to restore corneal-wound healing

The published findings in Diabetologia reveal potential therapeutic pathways that can reverse changes and restore wound-healing function in the cornea, offering insights for future diabetes treatments.

Eye Program director at Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute and senior study author Alexander Ljubimov said that they have discovered that diabetes can induce a lot of cellular changes than previously known. He explained that the finding doesn’t affect gene sequence but instead comprises certain DNA changes that can alter gene expression in what is popular s epigenetic alterations.

Around 37 million Americans, making up 11% of the population, suffer from diabetes, a systemic condition leading to various serious health issues such as heart disease, stroke kidney disease, amputation, and nerve damage. Surprisingly existing diabetes drugs mainly focus on improving glucose tolerance and insulin levels but fail to tackle the underlying molecular and cellular changes and their related complications.

This latest study has for the first time identified the Wnt-5a’s critical role in corneal healing and stem’ cells’ function. Wmt-5a is a signaling protein that is secreted to aid wound healing in the cornea.

Fist study author and researcher at Ljubimov’s lab Ruchi Shah said that available treatments only address symptoms thus the need to get insight on the molecular mechanisms of diabetes-linked wound healing issues.

Corneal stem cells often malfunction in advanced diabetes

The focus of diabetic eye disease is often on the retina, but up to 70% of diabetes patients also experience issues with the cornea, the transparent protective surface of the eye. In advanced diabetes, corneal stem cells malfunction, leading to slower and less effective healing after injuries or procedures like cataract surgery and laser treatment for diabetic retinopathy.

In the recent study, researchers identified epigenetic changes in diabetic corneal cells by comparing them to healthy corneal cells. They found that the WNT5A gene’s protein was repressed, and there was an increase in microRNA that inhibits WNT5A in the diabetic samples.