An Investigation into Changes to Trace Metals and Metabolic Profiling in the Diabetic Retina

  • Sandra Callagy

Student thesis: Phd


Diabetes mellitus currently affects over 422 million people globally and over 80% of patients with diabetes will develop diabetic retinopathy. Patients with diabetic retinopathy initially develop background retinopathy, which does not cause significant deterioration of visual function; however, background retinopathy may progress and lead to proliferative diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular oedema, both of which cause severe visual dysfunction if left untreated. Current therapies for diabetic retinopathy include invasive intravitreal injections and laser photocoagulation; however these treatments only attenuate the progression of proliferative diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular oedema. Aside from prevention by maintaining good blood glucose and blood pressure control, there are currently no treatments to prevent progression to late-stage diabetic retinopathy and new innovations in the field have not significantly progressed. For this reason, we have used untargeted –omics approaches to identify previously unknown pathological pathways in diabetes. In this thesis, I have analysed a range of trace metals in donor retinas and found that total copper was increased in diabetic retinas compared with non-diabetic. This result was replicated in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rat retinas and further evidenced by upregulation of metallothioneins and caeruloplasmin in diabetic rat retinas compared with non-diabetic. Treatment with the copper chelator triethylenetetramine modulated these changes, the downstream effects of which require further study. This is the first description, to our knowledge, of dysregulated copper homeostasis in the diabetic retina. I have also mapped metabolic changes in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rat retinas and found previously undescribed metabolite changes such as diabetes-induced downregulation of scyllo inositol. This coincided with substantial changes to retinal lipids during diabetes and changes to individual lipids were consistent within their respective class. I have also found a pattern whereby regardless of the extent of change to a lipid class in diabetes, lipids containing docosahexaenoic acid (22:6 carbon chain) were consistently downregulated. This is thought to be the first study to describe this range of metabolite changes in the diabetic retina but also the first study to describe this range of metabolite analysis concomitantly within the same tissue sample. The data from this study provides new insights into metallomic and metabolic dysfunction in diabetic retinopathy and shown that these data are reproducible. We suggest that there is plenty of scope for further research to investigate mechanisms behind copper dysregulation, how this affects pathogenesis of diabetic retinopathy along with new insights into dysregulated metabolic pathways.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPaul Bishop (Supervisor), Natalie Gardiner (Supervisor) & Garth Cooper (Supervisor)


  • rt-qPCR
  • mass spectrometry
  • glucose
  • streptozotocin
  • sugars
  • lipid profiling
  • amino acids
  • copper chelator
  • ratinopathy
  • lipidomics
  • ophthalmology
  • retina
  • copper
  • copper dysregulation
  • diabetes
  • diabetic
  • diabetic retinopathy
  • metabolomics
  • retinopathy
  • GC-MS
  • LC-MS
  • ICP-MS
  • metallomics
  • metabolic profiling

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