A team led by Massachusetts Eye and Ear researchers has identified a novel therapeutic target for retinal neovascularization, or abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina, a hallmark of advanced diabetic eye disease. According to a report published online in Diabetes, the transcription factor RUNX1 was found in abnormal retinal blood vessels, and by inhibiting RUNX1 with a small molecule drug, the researchers achieved a 50 percent reduction of retinopathy in preclinical models. These findings pave the way for new therapies that address diabetic retinopathy and other conditions involving abnormal vessel growth within the retina. Such novel treatments based on small molecules could cross biological barriers on their own, self-administered by the patients themselves and eliminate the need for intravitreal injections, according to the researchers.
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In the report, the authors studied tissue from patients with proliferative diabetic retinopathy. They identified the presence of RUNX1 in the diseased blood vessels but not in the normal blood vessels. Next, they used a small molecule drug originally developed as a cancer therapy to inhibit the activity of RUNX1 in the eye, which led to a significant reduction of abnormal blood vessels.
Current strategies for treating abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina for proliferative diabetic retinopathy include laser treatments or eye injections targeting a growth factor (VEGF). While these therapies have been remarkably successful in saving vision in many patients they can, in rare instances, trigger complications such as retinal hemorrhages, detachments or retinal atrophy.
The study authors are hopeful that inhibiting RUNX1 may present a more targeted opportunity for managing the retinopathy of certain eye conditions — perhaps earlier in the disease process, before the abnormal blood vessels develop. Future studies will test whether the drug can be delivered through topical eye drops rather than by injection, and further explore the relationship between RUNX1 and VEGF, as these factors seemingly both play a role in angiogenesis.
Edited from Mass Eye and Ear’s press release. Featured image from the same page.