Abstract Background Compaction of human ocular lens fiber cells as a function of both aging and cataractogenesis has been demonstrated previously using scanning electron microscopy. The purpose of this investigation is to quantify morphological differences in the inner nuclear regions of cataractous and non-cataractous human lenses from individuals with diabetes. The hypothesis is that, even in the presence of the osmotic stress caused by diabetes, compaction rather than swelling occurs in the nucleus of diabetic lenses. Methods Transparent and nuclear cataractous lenses from diabetic patients were examined by scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Measurements of the fetal nuclear (FN) elliptical angles (anterior and posterior), embryonic nuclear (EN) anterior-posterior (A-P) axial thickness, and the number of EN fiber cell membrane folds over 20 μm were compared. Results Diabetic lenses with nuclear cataract exhibited smaller FN elliptical angles, smaller EN axial thicknesses, and larger numbers of EN compaction folds than their non-cataractous diabetic counterparts. Conclusion As in non-diabetic lenses, the inner nuclei of cataractous lenses from diabetics were significantly more compacted than those of non-cataractous diabetics. Little difference between diabetic and non-diabetic compaction levels was found, suggesting that diabetes does not affect the degree of compaction. However, consistent with previous proposals, diabetes does appear to accelerate the formation of cataracts that are similar to age-related nuclear cataracts in non-diabetics. We conclude that as scattering increases in the diabetic lens with cataract formation, fiber cell compaction is significant.