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New knowledge about retinal disease can lead to safer drugs 

24 April 2020

Visual damage due to age-related changes of the macula and diabetes retinopathy are caused by leaking blood vessels, which in turn are caused by the protein VEGF. A new study in the journal eLife has now demonstrated that VEGF causes vascular leakage and the formation of new blood vessels in the retina in two biologically distinct ways. These new findings may lead to safer drugs in the future, according to the research team behind the study at St. Erik Eye Hospital/Karolinska Institutet, Uppsala University and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine.

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Researchers Helder André and Anders Kvanta.

Anders Kvanta, what did you look at in this study?

In this study we examine how VEGF causes vascular leakage and whether this occurs in the same way as the formation of new vessels. Drugs used against VEGF, Eylea and Lucentis, slow down the vascular leakage as well as the formation of new blood vessels. However, impeding the formation of new blood vessels in the eye can also lead to the damage or death of blood vessels and neurons, says Anders Kvanta, Adjunct Professor at Karolinska Institutet and Senior Consultant at St. Erik Eye Hospital, who has worked on the study together with KI/St. Erik researcher Helder André.

What is the most important outcome of the study? 

We demonstrate that VEGF causes the vascular leakage and formation of new vessels in two biologically distinct ways, says Anders Kvanta.

What significance could the results have for patients? 

These studies provide new detailed knowledge of how drugs against VEGF work and why they are so effective against vascular leakage. Since VEGF causes vascular leakage and the formation of new vessels through various mechanisms, it is possible to manufacture new drugs that only slow the vascular leakage without risk of damaging the retina by impacting the formation of new vessels, says Anders Kvanta.

How do you proceed with future studies? 

We plan to manufacture and test drugs that selectively prevent the occurrence of leaking vessels, says Anders Kvanta.


"Vascular permeability in retinopathy is regulated by VEGFR2 Y949 signaling to VE-cadherin", Ross Smith, Takeshi Ninchoji, Emma Gordon, Helder André, Elizabetta Dejana, Dietmar Vestweber, Anders Kvanta and Lena Claesson-Welsh, eLife, online 21 april 2020, d2020;9:e54056 doi: 10.7554/eLife.54056

4 February 2021