Dr. Steinle Receives $1.8 Million Grant to Research Diabetic Blindness

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Dr. Jena J. Steinle receives $1.8 Million Grant for Research to Prevent Blindness in Diabetics.

Imagine a world of total darkness. For diabetics, all too often that becomes a reality. Jena J. Steinle, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), wants to keep that from happening. A $1.8 million grant from the National Eye Institute, a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), may help her achieve that goal. The award, which will be administered in increments of $375,000 annually over a five-year period, will fund Dr. Steinle’s research investigating a substance that could prevent or reverse damage caused by diabetic retinal disease.

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults. Diabetics’ high sugar levels cause damage to a protein inside part of the retina. Known as the beta adrenergic receptors (BAR), these proteins are essentially regulators that control a vital function. BARs control sympathetic neural actions, responsible for carrying the “flight or fight,” signal to the brain. “Diabetic retinal damage slows or sometimes destroys a subset of a sympathetic nerve pathway, BARs,” said Dr. Steinle, who was the first to show that the nerves were damaged by diabetes.

She then began examining the use of a drug that consists of a compound, delivered through an eye drop, which has shown promise beyond preventing damage to the beta adrenergic receptors. This grant will help Dr. Steinle continue researching the efficacy and practical application of the compound. “The drug being studied may even reverse pre-existing retinal damage,” Dr. Steinle explained.

Founded in 1968, The National Eye Institute was the first government organization dedicated solely to research on human visual diseases and disorders, and is one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH is the nation’s medical research agency, which includes 27 Institutes and Centers, and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.