Simple eye test for diabetics could save sight

March 22, 1996

Scientists at Aberdeen University have made a technological breakthrough which they believe could provide a much simpler means of testing for eye disease, the most common complication of diabetes.

Diabetes is the most common cause of blindness in workers affecting around 2 per cent of the total population. The risk of eye disease increases progressively five years after the onset of diabetes, but only around half of diabetics are seen by an eye specialist.

New treatments have the potential to eradicate up to 90 per cent of blindness due to diabetes, said John Forrester, professor of ophthalmology at Aberdeen University, but there is wide regional variation in the level of screening. A massive increase in the number of eye specialists and opticians would be needed to underpin nationwide screening, and while family doctors should theoretically be able to use ophthalmoscopes to examine the interior of the eye, they often fear they are not sufficiently expert.

The Aberdeen group are now embarking on a three-year study of their system, backed by almost Pounds 400,000 from the NHS health technology programme.

Aberdeen's departments of ophthalmology and biomedical physics have jointly developed a radically different screening method using digital imaging, taking images of the retina using a camera connected to a computer.

The team will now study 800 local diabetic patients over 18 months to evaluate whether its system is better or as good as current screening procedures.

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