Retina Research

Normal vision requires all the cells in the retina to work together properly. Our approach to understanding how the retina malfunctions in diabetes is based on our observation that the normal interactions between the three main cellular components -- neurons, glial cells and tiny capillaries (vessels) -- are disturbed.

We believe that diabetes changes cellular interactions in a variety of ways, including altered blood-retinal barrier (BRB) induction, modified neurotransmitter (Glu) recycling, diminished metabolic support for neurons by glia, as well as leaking tight junctions (TJ).

A cure for diabetic retinopathy relies on an ability to understand the multiple facets of the disease.

An interdisciplinary team of scientists with expertise in Ophthalmology, Physiology, Cellular and Molecular Biology and Neuroscience, the group's goal is to characterize the cellular and molecular mechanisms that lead to vision impairment in diabetes and to generate novel treatments to cure diabetic retinopathy.

Normal Retina
Normal vision requires that all the cells in the retina -- neurons, glial cells, and vascular cells -- work together properly.

Diabetic Retina
The Penn State Hershey Retina Research Group has observed that the normal interactions between neurons, glial cells and vascular cells are disturbed in the diabetic retina.  Our research is aimed at finding a therapy to restore these interactions and, ultimately, to prevent or cure diabetic retinopathy.

We are currently focusing on:


  • Capillary leakage - Signaling molecules, including growth factors, which are secreted by some cells to influence other cells are out of balance in the diabetic retina. For instance glial cells secrete factors that regulate the permeability of blood vessels in the retina. Two examples are vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and histamine. We are studying these factors and others to understand why capillaries leak in diabetes, and how we might design treatments to prevent the leakage.
  • Cell death - It has been known for some time that cells die during diabetes. We are studying which cell types die, why they die, and how we might keep them from dying.
  • Malfunctioning neurons and glia - The electrical activity in the retina changes within a few years after people become diabetic. This is much earlier than the onset of vision impairment. Changes in electrical activity indicate that the neurons and glial cells of the retina function differently in diabetic eyes than they do in normal eyes. We are investigating how changes in the function of glia and neurons affect their health and ability to process visual information. The goal here is to find a means to make diabetic neurons function properly once again.

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the following organizations. Please visit their web sites to learn more about diabetes and eye care.