Public Release: 

Global recognition for developing eye tests to diagnose diabetes-related nerve damage

Queensland University of Technology


IMAGE: This is QUT Professor Nathan Efron, School of Optometry and Vision Science, Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, and recipient of NIH funding for eye tests for diabetes-related nerve damage.... view more

Credit: QUT

Researchers from QUT's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IBHI) developing eye tests to assess diabetic neuropathy and pave the way for earlier treatment are key partners in a consortium awarded $US1.1 million from the leading American medical research agency.

The US National Institutes of Health is the largest source of funding for medical research in the world. The grant for this project supports a research collaboration involving six universities worldwide, including QUT.

Professor Nathan Efron from IHBI's School of Optometry and Vision Science, who leads the QUT research team with Dr Nicola Pritchard, said the funding would link them with other leading laboratories to share knowledge and further advance the development of eye tests to identify diabetic neuropathy, a painful condition experienced by up to 50 per cent of people with type one diabetes.

"We will work with researchers from around the world to find out if we can examine the nerves in the front of the eye with specialised examination equipment to identify/predict diabetic nerve damage long before it becomes apparent in other parts of the body," said Professor Efron who has also just been awarded the prestigious Kenneth W Bell Medal from the Cornea and Contact Lens Society of Australia (CCLSA).

"The project involves QUT and institutions in Canada, the US, UK and Qatar and brings together researchers from optometry, ophthalmology, endocrinology, neurology and histology.

"This is an exciting project as one of the key aims is to pool research data from the participating centres so that information from over 600 diabetic patients world-wide can be assembled to help answer some key questions relating to the performance of these new eye tests.

"This research will accelerate the development of these novel eye tests for diabetes, and may result in the widespread deployment - perhaps within the next 5 years - of highly specialised instruments around Australia that can be used to take these measurements."

Professor Efron said typical symptoms of diabetic neuropathy can include numbness, pins and needles, tingling, discomfort, or weakness, which usually begin in the hands or feet and spread up the arms and legs. For many it results in significant pain and discomfort, especially at night, and can also cause balance problems and damage and deformity to feet.

"Early diagnosis can reduce complications and help with pain management, and some of our recent data suggests that regrowth of damaged nerves is possible under certain conditions" he said.

This research was supported by the Special Statutory Funding Program for Type 1 Diabetes Research through the NIH's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases under award number DP3DK104386. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Professor Efron will be presented with the 2015 Kenneth W Bell Medal for 'extensive commitment and research achievements in the field of contact lenses and the anterior segment' at the triennial conference of the CCLSA in May next year.

The CCLSA is the peak body for contact lens related clinical practice and research in Australia. Its membership comprises optometrists, ophthalmologists, researchers and those working in the contact lens industry. Professor Efron will be the seventh recipient and of the medal (and the first Queenslander) which is named in honour of Kenneth W Bell, a Sydney optometrist and contact lens practitioner who has been Treasurer of the CCLSA for over 50 years.


Media contact:

Amanda Weaver, QUT Media, 07 3138 9449,

After hours: Rose Trapnell, 0407 585 901.

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Professor Nathan Efron

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