WVU project works toward preventing blindness in diabetic patients

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The risk of going blind is all too real for diabetics but a WVU project is hoping to mitigate that risk for West Virginians.

The West Virginia Practice-Based Research Network is the organization behind trying to stop or limit diabetic retinopathy, or blindness as a result of diabetes. Stacey Whanger, the Network’s assistant director said their work has been going on since 2016 and that they have been engaging primary care providers to offer a new screening for diabetic patients.

The patients that need the screenings from physicians are the ones that are not necessarily seen by an eye doctor, Whanger said, so they’re actually providing care to folks who may not have access to an early screening.

“It’s recommended that patients with diabetes have yearly eye exams because diabetic retinopathy starts very small–very subtle changes so patients may not recognize that it’s happening until the disease is later in the stages,” Whanger said. “So it’s important to get that early screening done so then treatment can be provided earlier to the patient and hopefully have better success and save the sight as long as possible.”

According to a WVU press release, it is projected that one in three Americans with diabetes will experience diabetic retinopathy by the year 2050. The projection may be frightening but early detection reduces the risk of severe vision loss by 90 percent.

Whanger said the project is also trying to reach out to diabetic patients from the moment when they are diagnosed with diabetes in order to get them in touch with an eye care specialist. The reason being that a regular doctor cannot treat diabetic retinopathy, they can only do an initial screening to see if the eyes are normal.

Moving forward, Whanger said, they are hoping to expand the project to more sites around the state.

“We cover a good portion of areas around the state but we’re hoping to expand to other primary care sites to really deliver the care to patients that are not receiving their annual eye exams and to be able to provide that care to them,” Whanger explained. “We also are really creating a network across the state between eye care professionals and primary care providers so this could really extend to other diseases that have systematic and ophthalmic conditions and how it goes hand in hand. It just works as a nice partnership between all the different providers that a patient might come in contact with.”

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