But the discovery of the compound's function in inflammation and blood vessel formation related to eye disease can help scientists develop new therapies, including eye drops, to stop the disease.
"There is no good treatment for retinopathy, which is why we are so excited about this work. This opens an entirely new area for pharmaceutical companies to target," said Jay Ma, the principal investigator on the project.
Diabetic retinopathy is caused by changes in blood vessels of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.
In some people with diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels may swell and leak fluid. In other people, abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina.
Over time, diabetic retinopathy can worsen and cause some vision loss or blindness.
The Oklahoma researchers found that the inflammation and leakage is caused by an imbalance of two systems in the eye, and to restore balance, they delivered the new compound to cells using nanoparticle technology.
The treatment in research models stopped the leakage, blocked inflammation, and kept unwanted blood vessels from growing.
The researchers are now testing the compound's uses for cancer and age-related macular degeneration.
The research has appeared online this month in the journal Diabetes, a publication of the American Diabetes Association.