EPMA J. 2023 Feb 22;14(1):1-9. doi: 10.1007/s13167-023-00318-4. Online ahead of print.
Type 2 diabetes (T2DM) defined as the adult-onset type that is primarily not insulin-dependent, comprises over 95% of all diabetes mellitus (DM) cases. According to global records, 537 million adults aged 20-79 years are affected by DM that means at least 1 out of 15 persons. This number is projected to grow by 51% by the year 2045. One of the most common complications of T2DM is diabetic retinopathy (DR) with an overall prevalence over 30%. The total number of the DR-related visual impairments is on the rise, due to the growing T2DM population. Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) is the progressing DR and leading cause of preventable blindness in working-age adults. Moreover, PDR with characteristic systemic attributes including mitochondrial impairment, increased cell death and chronic inflammation, is an independent predictor of the cascading DM-complications such as ischemic stroke. Therefore, early DR is a reliable predictor appearing upstream of this “domino effect”. Global screening, leading to timely identification of DM-related complications, is insufficiently implemented by currently applied reactive medicine. A personalised predictive approach and cost-effective targeted prevention shortly – predictive, preventive and personalised medicine (PPPM / 3PM) could make a good use of the accumulated knowledge, preventing blindness and other severe DM complications. In order to reach this goal, reliable stage- and disease-specific biomarker panels are needed characterised by an easy way of the sample collection, high sensitivity and specificity of analyses. In the current study, we tested the hypothesis that non-invasively collected tear fluid is a robust source for the analysis of ocular and systemic (DM-related complications) biomarker patterns suitable for differential diagnosis of stable DR versus PDR. Here, we report the first results of the comprehensive ongoing study, in which we correlate individualised patient profiles (healthy controls versus patients with stable D as well as patients with PDR with and without co-morbidities) with their metabolic profiles in the tear fluid. Comparative mass spectrometric analysis performed has identified following metabolic clusters which are differentially expressed in the groups of comparison: acylcarnitines, amino acid & related compounds, bile acids, ceramides, lysophosphatidyl-choline, nucleobases & related compounds, phosphatidyl-cholines, triglycerides, cholesterol esters, and fatty acids. Our preliminary data strongly support potential clinical utility of metabolic patterns in the tear fluid indicating a unique metabolic signature characteristic for the DR stages and PDR progression. This pilot study creates a platform for validating the tear fluid biomarker patterns to stratify T2DM-patients predisposed to the PDR. Moreover, since PDR is an independent predictor of severe T2DM-related complications such as ischemic stroke, our international project aims to create an analytical prototype for the “diagnostic tree” (yes/no) applicable to healthrisk assessment in diabetes care.