Diabetes is a serious and growing public health problem in the UK, with estimates that by 2025 five million people will suffer from the disease. Of the current three million cases of diabetes in the UK, 80% of these patients will develop diabetic retinopathy (DR), which is the most common cause of blindness in people of working age in the UK.


Diabetic retinopathy is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the network of tiny blood vessels that supply blood to the retina.


Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) are working on innovations to reduce the need for laser treatment or surgery for the treatment of diabetic retinopathy.


Funded through a Scottish Funding Council Innovation Voucher, which helps SMEs innovate, develop and grow by working with a university partner, GCU is working with Joe Lights Limited to develop and test a retinal sleep lamp.


In diabetics, the inner retina becomes hypoxic (short of oxygen) in the dark, resulting in damages to small retinal vessels and leading to retinopathy.


The retinal sleep lamp prototype developed by Joe Lights is specifically designed for the purpose of illuminating the eyelids during sleep.  A tiny portion of this light passes through the closed eyelid and reduces retinal hypoxia. The treatment is non-invasive and can be easily implemented in a standard bedroom environment as an affordable and low cost treatment.


Dr Xinhua Shu, from GCU’s School of Health and Life Sciences, is working with Dr Josef Tainsh, Director of Joe Lights, to develop light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in the sleep lamps to target the light-sensitive photoreceptor cells without disturbing the patient’s sleep. First they will test whether the LEDs will affect health individuals’ sleep in a small clinical trial. They then will evaluate the effectiveness of the light treatment in preventing the progression of DR.


Dr Xinhua Shu’s research interests are in the disease mechanisms of retinal diseases, including diabetic retinopathy, age- related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

Dr Shu said: “This project is innovative because, if the results prove positive, it will offer a cheap and easy-to-use tool in the fight against retinopathy and may help prevent the need for more invasive types of therapy such as laser treatment, injections and surgery”