ORNL, UTHSC develop program that could prevent blindness from diabetes

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Oak Ridge scientists said 29 million people suffer from diabetes, but half of them don't get eye exams to test for potential blindness from the disease.

As Local 8 News Anchor Lauren Davis found out, Oak Ridge National Lab has created a program that will detect just that.

Ken Tobin, the Director for Reactors and Nuclear Systems Division at Oak Ridge National Lab said, "If you catch blindness early, you can save sight in your eyes for a longer period of time than if you wait for the symptoms."

It's called diabetic retinopathy, which causes diabetic patients to lose their sight. Ken Tobin said, "By detecting it early, you can make corrections early and can save sight years. It also saves money and does a lot of good things."

Thanks to the Hubble Telemedical, created here in East Tennessee at ORNL, blindness from the disease could be prevented. The cameras have been placed in doctor's offices around the nation. The hope with the system was to make them more accessible.

"I think long term, you walk into Walmart and just like an arm cuff for blood pressure screening there will be a retinal exam to detect blindness," Tobin said.

The system helps diabetes patients, but it can also help with seniors who are susceptible to macular degeneration.

"It's a very successful program," Tobin said. "It only took seven years to go from an idea from one field of use into the medical environment, and it's helping a lot of people today. That's the most exciting part of the whole thing."

Dr. Ken Tobin with ORNL partnered with Dr. Edward Chaum with University of Tennessee Health Science Center to create the program.