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Retinopathy boon in Guwahati

Stock Photo - Retina of diabetic - diabetic retinopathy Image credit: Satit Umong / 123rf
A human eye affected by diabetic retinopathy. Image credit: Satit Umong / 123rf

Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati (IIT-G) in Assam have developed a new device for non-invasive detection of diabetic retinopathy.

The point-of-care device was developed by the researchers in collaboration with Sankaradeva Nethralaya Guwahati. The research, funded by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Ministries of Human Resource and Development and Electronics and Information Technology, was published in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering. Bandyopadhyay co-authored the paper with IIT-G students Tamanna Bhuyan, Subhradip Ghosh, and Surjendu Maity, Subhradip Ghosh and ophthalmologist Dr Dipankar Das, who heads the Department of Ocular Pathology and Uvea in Sankaradeva Nethralaya. 

Diabetic retinopathy, as previously noted by Health Issues India, is “a condition wherein blood vessels within the eyes are damaged, which can go so far as to cause blindness.” It is a complication of diabetes which, “partially owing to the genetic risk unique to those in India and partially due to lifestyle factors…is one of the fastest growing health conditions in the country.” 

Eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy affect approximately one in seven Indian diabetics, a group which could number at 98 million by 2030. Diabetic eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy are leading preventable causes of blindness in India. 

“The first step in the test for diabetic retinopathy…an invasive eye exam, in which the eyes are dilated and the ophthalmologist inspects the eye”, said Dr Dipankar Bandyopadhyay, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Head of Center for Nanotechnology at IIT-G who headed the research team. “As people who have had eye examinations know, this is inconvenient, with blurry vision for a long time after examination. 

“Advanced detection methods such as optical coherence tomography, fluorescein angiography, detection of exudates in retina, and image analysis are complicated and require skilled operators and can show the malady only after it has progressed enough to be detected.” By contrast, their device can detect the condition early on and thereby avert the potential for complete loss of vision. The research team has filed a patent for the device. 

A statement by IIT-G explained that “Researchers found that β-2-microglobulin (B2M), a protein found in tears and urine, is a reliable indicator for retinopathy. Armed with this knowledge, they set out to develop a device that can detect this protein in these body fluids.” Bandyopadhyay elaborate that “we designed a microfluidic system, in which, the body fluid – tear or urine – was drawn into very thin tubes or capillaries, where they came in contact with the gold-antibody nanoparticles, and the change in colour was assessed to detect B2M.”

The news is undoubtedly positive. With diabetes fast-growing and more than sixty percent of Indian diabetics neglecting to properly control their blood sugar, leaving them vulnerable to complications such as diabetic eye disease, diagnostic tools for diabetic retinopathy are important developments. This is a reality underscored by the fact that the country is anticipated to be home to as many as twenty million people affected by diabetic retinopathy by 2025.

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