The consequences of proliferative diabetic retinopathy, if uncontrolled, are well known: severe vision loss with vitreous hemorrhage and tractional retinal detachment.1 While pan-retinal photocoagulation has remained the standard therapy, DRCR Retina Network Protocol S and CLARITY trial results established intravitreal injections with anti-VEGF drugs as an alternative therapy for PDR eyes that don’t require vitrectomy.

Anti-VEGF agents have been shown to produce superior or equivalent visual outcomes while minimizing visual field loss and proliferative consequences compared with PRP.2-4 While anti-VEGF agents offer many benefits, therapy is more expensive, the treatment burden is higher and follow-up and monitoring more frequent than PRP alone. Patient non-compliance with follow-up has remained an issue.3,5 

Therefore, retina specialists often opt to administer PRP alone or in combination with anti-VEGF for PDR because PRP is thought to be more reliable in this population.6 

Despite the favorable and equivalent five-year outcomes observed for both PRP and ranibizumab-treated eyes in DRCR Protocol S, vitreous hemorrhage occurs in almost 50 percent of eyes receiving either therapy.3 The high incidence of proliferative complications indicates a need to evaluate how to further optimize PDR treatment.  


Ultra-widefield imaging

Since 1991, diabetic retinopathy severity and progression have been graded based on the modified Airlie House classification using seven-standard field fundus (7SF) photography established in the Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study, which captures about 35 percent of the retinal area.7-9 Imaging the peripheral retina can identify more pathology and provide further guidance in managing PDR.10 

Ultra-widefield imaging, capturing up to 82 percent of retinal area, provides more information.10,11 With greater adoption of widefield imaging in clinical practice, UWF imaging was recently defined as a single image centered on the fovea capturing retinal anatomy beyond the posterior pole and anterior to the vortex veins in all four quadrants.12 

The multicenter DRCR Protocol AA study along with other single-center studies have shown agreement in assessing DR severity on EDTRS images and UWF fundus photography.13-16 

Retinopathy peripheral to the EDTRS fields is identified in up to 40 percent of eyes on UWF imaging, resulting in increased DR severity in 9 to 15 percent of eyes. Eyes with peripheral retinopathy have also been shown to have higher rates of DR progression compared to eyes without peripheral retinopathy.10,11,13-23  

For years, the American Academy of Ophthalmology preferred practice patterns didn’t recommend FA as a necessity in the diagnosis and management of PDR. With the incorporation of widefield FA as a supplement to fundus photography and clinical examination, it has emerged as a valuable tool.8,24 

UWF-FA obtains images with 3.2 times more retinal area than the 7SF images, revealing nonperfusion, ischemia, vascular leakage and neovascularization not evident with fundus photography or clinical examination. These lesions have clinically significant implications on PDR management.6,11,22,23,25-27 Area of retinal nonperfusion, often imaged in the mid-peripheral retina, is predictive of developing or finding PDR and neovascularization.28


UWF-FA Guided Anti-VEGF Therapy

PDR eyes treated with anti-VEGF agents have shown retinal neovascularization regression and reperfusion on both widefield and standard-field FA.29-33 Our clinical experience indicates that UWF-FA identifies neovascularization regression and progression better than clinical examination alone. So, when electing anti-VEGF monotherapy for PDR, we’ve found using UWF-FA beneficial (Figure 1). Our experience in the care of PDR eyes led us to include this approach within our clinical trial (LASERLESS Trial) evaluating endolaserless (omitting PRP endolaser) vitrectomy for PDR eyes with vitreous hemorrhage. We utilized UWF-FA-guided aflibercept (Eylea, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals) PRN dosing (in addition to mandatory postoperative aflibercept) in PDR eyes after endolaserless vitrectomy. 

We previously reported results for 31 LASERLESS trial eyes.34-37 Four-month results demonstrated quick visual acuity (VA) gains with an improvement of 38 to 72 (20/40) letters.35 One-year results indicated safety, moderate-term durability and significant VA improvement.36 

Additionally, neovascularization was absent on UWF-FA in 70 percent and 27 percent of q8- and q16-week eyes, respectively. Our two-year results indicate that persistent and frequent postoperative anti-VEGF therapy is necessary to optimize visual outcomes and reduce complications.37

We also evaluated using UWF-FA to guide pro re nata aflibercept monotherapy in 17 PRP-naïve PDR eyes not requiring vitrectomy (Figures 2 and 3). Through one year, we observed excellent safety and a 4-letter VA gain. We also observed an absence of neovascularization on UWF-FA in 41 percent of eyes at four weeks after the first aflibercept injection. Progression after regression of neovascularization occurred as only 24 percent of eyes demonstrated absence of neovascularization at one year despite an average of 5.7 injections administered.38


Is PRP more durable?

While PRP is commonly believed to be more durable in treating PDR than anti-VEGF agents, it hasn’t been definitively confirmed in major PDR trials. In the CLARITY study, 65 and 6 percent of eyes required additional PRP and vitrectomy, respectively, through one year.4 In the PROTEUS study, 44 percent of eyes receiving PRP and ranibizumab showed complete neovascularization regression compared to 25 percent of eyes receiving PRP alone.39 

In many large PDR trials, neovascularization status was monitored by clinical examination alone, which may have resulted in missed neovascularization progression. Without the use of widefield FA, we may be undertreating PDR, resulting in significant vitreous hemorrhage rates. Thus, UWF-FA guided anti-VEGF PRN dosing has the potential to reduce proliferative complications and vitreous hemorrhage rates in PDR eyes even after PRP.


Widefield OCTA

Optical coherence tomography angiography, a newer imaging method that allows for three-dimensional visualization of the retinal microvasculature, has been reported to successfully depict DR lesions, even revealing vascular abnormalities in people with diabetes with a normal fundus on ophthalmoscopy.24 It offers advantages over FA, including the ability to view neovascularization and determine its location as preretinal or intraretinal.40 

OCTA can also detect diabetic macular ischemia as well as FA.41,42 Recent studies have demonstrated that widefield OCTA may be an appropriate imaging modality for managing PDR, providing information about neovascularization comparable to UWF-FA.43 Figure 4 compares widefield OCTA with standard field OCTA. 

Widefield OCTA has been proposed to be the only imaging modality required to monitor neovascularization status in PDR after PRP.40 It’s important to note, however, that while FA can show decreased neovascularization leakage after PRP or anti-VEGF, OCTA can’t detect this, thus potentially limiting its ability to assess neovascularization progression or regression.44 However, as OCTA detects nonperfusion better than FA, the need to further evaluate its role in PDR management exists.26,45 


Future study focus

Even though UWF-FA is frequently used in clinical practice, limited data exists evaluating UWF-FA-guided PRN anti-VEGF dosing. However, as UWF imaging has been shown to detect peripheral retinopathy and neovascularization not easily observed on clinical exam and fundus photography, we believe that wide-field angiographic monitoring is a useful tool to monitor proliferative activity and optimize anti-VEGF therapy needs, thus reducing proliferative consequences. 

Using UWF imaging in PDR eyes is especially important because neovascularization assessment on fundus exam can be confounded by a lack of patient cooperation, phakic status, and profound retinal ischemia and flat neovascularization that are difficult to assess on exam. While our widefield FA monitoring approach is limited by absence of control groups, it’s analogous to early nAMD trials (PrONTO), which based anti-VEGF treatment on anatomical changes observed on OCT.46 


Bottom line

UWF-FA guided anti-VEGF PRN dosing has the potential to optimize PDR outcomes and may provide a foundation for non-invasive PDR monitoring with widefield OCTA, especially as continued use and advancements in wide-angle and widefield montage OCTA emerge.24,26,40-45

 We also hope that our widefield FA-guided findings stimulate further evaluation on monitoring PDR activity with UWF-FA and of various dosing regimens for PDR. DRCR Retina Network Protocol AA results will provide additional important information on widefield imaging in DR.  RS


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