An ancient berry may be a powerful tool in protecting eyes from diabetes-related vision loss, according to new cellular research.

Scientists from the University of Sydney discovered that a compound found in the goji berry, called taurine, may be able to protect the eye's retina from diabetic retinopathy. The condition occurs when glucose levels in the eye increase, thereby causing retina cells to die, explained Basil Roufogalis, a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of Sydney.

"Typically what happens is proteins in the eye become oxidated and high glucose levels force retinal cells to die," Roufogalis said in a statement. "What's more, blood vessels build up in the retina and grow over the vision spot, which can result in vision loss."

The study, published in the Journal of Diabetes & Metabolism, was conducted in cells exposed to high glucose that functioned as a model for diabetic retinopathy. The researchers exposed these cells to pure taurine, as well as goji berry extract that had taurine in it.

The researchers found that both the goji berry extract and the pure taurine seemed to protect the cells from dying.

"We are hopeful that these promising results for treating or preventing diabetic retinopathy will lead to human clinical trials," Roufogalis said in the statement.

Diabetic retinopathy is the No. 1 cause of blindness in adults in the U.S., according to the National Eye Institute.

According to 2005 to 2008 statistics from the National Institutes of Health, 28.5 percent of people with diabetes ages 40 and older have retinopathy (4.2 million people). Of those people, 4.4 percent had an advanced form of the condition, putting them at risk for blindness.

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