In people with type 2 diabetes, the cholesterol-lowering drug fenofibrate reduces the need for laser treatment for diabetic retinopathy, which is a leading cause of blindness in American adults.
A team of researchers from the University of Sydney studied nearly 9,800 type 2 diabetes patients, ages 50 to 75, who received either 200 milligrams (mg) per day of fenofibrate or a placebo.
After an average follow-up of five years, fenofibrate reduced the frequency of first laser treatment for macular edema (swelling of the macula, the part of the eye responsible for highly-focused central vision) by 31% and for proliferative diabetic retinopathy (growth of new, abnormal blood vessels on the retina surface) by 30%.
The researchers noted that although fenofibrate is a drug that lowers levels of blood fats (lipids), it didn't lead to clinically important differences in "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol in the type 2 diabetes patients who took it.
"These findings suggest that the mechanisms of benefit of fenofibrate in diabetic retinopathy must go beyond the effects of this drug on lipid concentrations or to lower blood pressure and might be conferred mainly by other means," said the study authors.
They concluded that, "The substantial benefits of fenofibrate on need for laser treatment for diabetic retinopathy are likely to be additive to those benefits arising from tight control of blood glucose and blood pressure in the management of type 2 diabetes mellitus and emerge rapidly after treatment is commenced."
The findings support the use of fenofibrate in the management of diabetic eye disease, said the researchers.
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