Several decades ago, type 1 diabetes (T1D) patients brought their seeing-eye dogs into the offices where Jennifer Sun, M.D., MPH., now works. The complications of T1D had severely compromised or cost the patients their eyesight.
Today, work led by Dr. Sun is changing all that.
Dr. Sun, is a surgeon at the Joslin Diabetes Center and an associate professor in the Harvard Department of Ophthalmology, and is one of the more than 400 researchers supported by JDRF donors.
For 14 years, Dr. Sun focused on preventing diabetic eye disease and has helped advance physician’s ability to diagnose eye disease earlier and faster. That’s a critical focus for the future, as more than 90% of people with T1D develop diabetic eye disease within two decades of being diagnosed. With early diagnosis, doctors can create better outcomes and prevent vision loss.
Recently, multiple technologies have come together in a way that allows researchers to intervene earlier for people with diabetes, and identify the treatments that they need sooner. Instruments such as adaptive optic scanning and laser ophthalmoscopy are complex, but they help scientists look at tiny structures in the eye. Dr. Sun can see a person’s eye in minute detail. So precise is this technology that Sun can view a single cell passing through an ultra-fine capillary, which are the smallest blood vessels that supply nutrients to our eyes.
Dr. Sun thinks the next phase of research is to combine that kind of personal imaging data with electronic medical data that has been captured from many patients across thousands of clinics. By using artificial intelligence algorithms, researchers may be able to identify patients who need treatment earlier, and develop new therapies for them.
“What I hope is that the research projects I’m doing today, sometime down the road I’ll be able to look at them and say those made a difference in saving vision in our patients with T1D,” says Dr. Sun.
Get introduced to JDRF grant recipient Dr. Sun—and many more JDRF-supported researchers—by visiting our new site Meet the Scientists. See how researchers are forging their own paths to help find cures and improve the lives of those living with T1D.
Ensuring eye complication research continues is extremely important to JDRF. Please consider donating today, as we help those with T1D today and work to prevent future complications with your support.