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STUDY: Synthetic vitamin prevents retina damage in rats, study finds
JOURNAL: Nature Medicine
AUTHORS: Dr. Michael Brownlee
ABSTRACT: New hope for people with a diabetes-related eye disease may be found in a synthetic form of vitamin B1 used to treat nerve problems. Benfotiamine has been shown to prevent the most common form of diabetes-related eye disease in rats.
COMMENTARY: Diabetic rats treated with this form of Vitamin B1 for 36 weeks did not develop any of the retina damage found in a similar group of untreated rats.
In diabetics, excess sugar in the blood can damage some cells, especially those lining blood vessels, that are unable to block the sugar from entering. That sugar is burned for fuel by mitochondria, the energy engines of cells.
In cells that cannot regulate their amount of sugar, byproducts accumulate that can activate three different pathways of cell damage that can lead to blindness and other complications.
Brownlee’s group focused on two compounds involved in this damage. Those compounds are affected by an enzyme called transketolase, which depends on thiamine — also known as vitamin B1 — for its activity.
The researchers sought to block the cell damage by using thiamine to boost the activity of transketolase, but this increased the enzyme activity only about 20 percent.
German researchers on the team suggested trying the synthetic thiamine form, benfotiamine, and it increased the enzyme activity by 300 percent to 400 percent.
While benfotiamine is a synthetic derivative of thiamine, it is different from that vitamin, Brownlee said. He cautioned diabetics that “going out to a health food store and buying a lot of thiamine is not going to help.”