Cancer drug offers alternative for retinopathy laser therapy

Retinopathy Drug treatments can improve visual acuity.

Cancer treatment bevacizumab could replace laser surgery as a treatment for some forms of diabetic retinopathy, a study has suggested.

Focal laser treatment is usually used to treat patients with diabetic macular oedema, a manifestation of diabetic retinopathy and the most common cause of moderate vision loss in people with diabetes.

However, researchers have begun to examine drug treatments because, although laser treatment can reduce vision loss, it does not usually lead to an improvement in visual acuity.

In addition, diffuse diabetic macular oedema is often resistant to laser and other standard treatments.

Bevacizumab is an antibody directed against vascular endothelial growth factor. It is currently indicated for the treatment of cancers of the breast, colon, kidney, lung and rectum.

Researchers gave the drug as an intravitreal injection to 115 patients with diabetic macular oedema, 24 of whom had two eyes treated.

Improvements in visual acuity were seen within one month. After two years, patients' vision had improved in 51.8 per cent of cases and 91.7 per cent of eyes were either stable or improved.

The study was conducted by Fernando Arevalo of the Caracas Central Ophthalmologic Clinic in Venezula and colleagues from the Pan-American Collaborative Retina Study Group.

They said the results were 'very promising' and required further investigation.

'This new treatment method may replace or complement focal or grid laser photocoagulation,' they said.

Combination therapies, using both bevacizumab and laser therapy should also be considered, they suggested.

However, the researchers added that therapies using bevacizumab and other drugs remain at an experimental stage.

'We should all consider laser therapy for patients with diabetic macular oedema while we await advances and better outcomes from new therapies still under investigation,' they said.

tom.moberly@haymarket.com

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