Touching Lives - April 2014
A step towards saving babies’ sight
Research funded by Action has shown exciting potential for a new way to treat retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a major cause of vision loss and blindness in young children.
ROP is caused by blood vessels in the eye growing abnormally and causing damage to the retina, the light-sensitive inner-lining of the eye. Babies who are born very prematurely are most at risk of developing the disease.
Dr Derek Brazil and a team, based at the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science at Queen’s University in Belfast, were awarded £124,652 by Action in 2010. Their aim was to investigate if a special type of stem cell, obtained from babies’ own umbilical cord blood just after birth, could be used to repair damage caused by ROP.
The team has been able to successfully isolate this specific cell and compared those take from premature deliveries with cells taken from full-term babies. They have also identified a new protein called placental-like growth factor, which may play a key role in boosting the ability of these cells to form blood vessels.
It is hoped this work will eventually lead to clinical trials and ultimately a new treatment that could one day save babies’ sight.