Stopping Blindness in Premature Babies - New Project to Improve Diagnosis
9 April 2006
New research, announced by Action Medical Research today, could help to stop very premature babies from going blind in the crucial first weeks following birth.
The charity’s Touching Tiny Lives Campaign is supporting a new project that is seeking to improve the diagnosis of Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), which is a form of blindness that affects babies born very early.
ROP, which accounts for 3-8% of childhood blindness in the UK, can be prevented if it is treated quickly. It is a difficult condition to diagnose, requiring the judgement of an experienced ophthalmologist – a doctor who specialises in diseases of the eye.
However this can be a frustratingly lengthy process at a time when urgent decisions need to be made.
Andrew Proctor of Action Medical Research said, “The ultimate aim of Professor Alistair Fielder’s research at City University is to develop a screening tool that will allow a more efficient and speedy diagnosis.
“The device would assess digital images of the back of the eye by, for example, measuring the diameter and branching patterns of blood vessels.
“Ultimately, it is hoped that specially trained nurses or other health professionals, could use the semi-automated, computerised screening tool. This would mean that checking for ROP could become a simple routine test, saving the eyesight of babies worldwide.”
Mr Proctor added, “Unfortunately ROP is one of the lifelong health problems that can result from early birth. As a charity we are looking to stop prematurity – but more research is needed in this tremendously under-funded area.
“We are calling on the Government to double its funding and asking the Public to support us in this by signing our online petition at www.standupfortinylives.org.
“It really is an area that needs urgent national attention.”
Professor Alistair Fielder said, “When deciding whether a baby needs treatment, ophthalmologists look for abnormalities in the blood vessels at the back of the eye.
“As a result these specialists have to devote a lot of time to screening babies for the condition.
“So, in the initial stages of this research we will be working to provide a clear definition of the way that the illness affects blood vessels in babies’ eyes.
“We will then draw from our databases to create a library of images of the eyes of premature babies both with and without ROP to guide ophthalmologists in their diagnosis.
“We hope that this research, and the screening tool that we are developing, will have implications worldwide.
“In developing countries the illness causes up to 60% of childhood blindness This is because, despite the presence of intensive care facilities that keep the premature babies alive, there are insufficient staff to monitor the babies’ eyes.
“Clearly if we can simplify the process then it will help to make ROP screening a routine test and give doctors the best chance of saving a baby’s eye-sight.”
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