Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Singapore - New diabetic retinopathy treatment more effective

SINGAPORE: The new anti-VEGF treatment option for diabetic retinopathy patients has been hailed by experts as being more effective than traditional laser treatments.

Diabetic retinopathy, a condition of the eyes affecting diabetics that causes swelling and blurred vision, plague an approximate 100,000 Singaporeans say experts.

"Anti-VEGF therapy is a new therapy which effectively reduces the swelling in the eye," said Professor Wong Tien Yin, Executive Director at the Singapore Eye Research Institute. "It works by suppressing growth factors that causes the blood vessels to leak and the retina to swell."

Diabetic retinopathy patients traditionally undergo laser treatment to treat their symptoms.

However Professor Wong noted that visual improvement after laser treatments was not common and that many continued to lose vision after treatment, adding that the laser option was "good but not completely satisfactory".

"The new anti-VEGF therapy essentially helps improve vision in patients... and therefore patients have a better quality of life," he said.

However, anti-VEGF treatments can cost up to S$42,000, compared to laser treatments which cost between S$500 and S$1,600.

Patients undergoing anti-VEGF undergo seven intro-ocular injections into the eye in the first year of treatment, followed by four injections in the second year and three in the third year. The each injection costs between S$1,200 and S$3,000.

Despite that, more than a thousand patients in Singapore have undergone anti-VEGF treatment since hospitals started offering it last September.

Professor Wong also noted that screening for diabetic retinopathy could be further streamlined to ensure better detection.

"In many countries, including Singapore, family general practitioners conduct screening for diabetic retinopathy," he said. "Despite their medical background and training, their evaluation may be limited due to busy clinic schedules".

Instead, non-physicians or eye research technicians should also be used to detect diabetic retinopathy said Professor Wong, citing a local study conducted in 2009 that showed trained eye research technicians outperforming family general practitioners in detecting diabetic retinopathy.

- CNA/jc

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