The DREAM Project
Professor Alex Brown was one of the successful recipients of the 2019 MDFA Research Grant Program. The DREAM research Project was allocated $234,000 over three years.
Professor Brown leads the Aboriginal Health Equity Theme at South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute. The team’s project is called Defining the Risk and Epidemiology of Aboriginal Australian Macular Disease, hence its name: The DREAM project.
Diabetes can damage the small blood vessels of the eye, this is called diabetic retinopathy and is the leading cause of avoidable vision loss and blindness in working-age Australians. Diabetic retinopathy can lead to fluid leakage at the macula, the part of the eye responsible for detailed central vision. This condition is referred to as diabetic macular oedema.
Aboriginal Australians experience much higher rates of diabetic macular oedema than non-Aboriginal people. Diabetes-related vision loss is estimated to be about five times higher among Indigenous Australians compared with other Australians. The DREAM project aimed to find out why this is so and predict who will go on to develop diabetes-related vision loss and blindness.
Professor Brown and his team of researchers followed people with diabetes for up to five years. The study found more than a third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with diabetes had diabetic retinopathy. Men and people living in remote areas were particularly at risk.
They found the key risk factors for developing sight threatening diabetic macular oedema were high blood glucose levels, kidney problems, high blood pressure and financial stress.
Concerningly, nearly 30% of the people followed in the study had some form of vision loss.
The researchers also developed a new photographic method for diagnosing eye conditions remotely, creating a valuable eye screening tool that can be used in people living in regions with limited access to eye care services.
Prof Brown’s findings highlight the importance of regular eye screenings for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with diabetes.
The research also found a need to address not just the known health risks for diabetes but importantly, also the broader social determinants of health. The DREAM project will become a foundation for future strategies to enhance eye health in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Posted: 27 November 2023