Touching Lives - April 2015
Saving babies’ sight
Researchers funded by Action at Queen’s University Belfast have discovered a way to protect premature babies who are resuscitated after birth from losing their sight.
A condition called retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) can be a tragic side-effect of giving babies high levels of oxygen during resuscitation. Improvements in newborn care, and better survival rates for babies born early, mean that doctors are seeing more cases of ROP – and that new forms of treatment are urgently needed.
ROP happens in two stages. Firstly, when the delicate blood vessels of the eye are exposed to high levels of oxygen, the retina is damaged. In an attempt to repair damaged tissue, new vessels grow over the retina, and it is this second stage which can lead to permanent loss of vision.
Dr Denise McDonald and Dr Tom Gardiner have found a new way to prevent the first stage of ROP from occurring, and a way to reverse the effects and prevent further damage, using substances which occur naturally in the body. This offers hope for the development of new medicines as an alternative to laser therapy which carries risks and does not always work.
With 60,000 babies born too soon in the UK each year, this research represents an important step along the road to protecting and treating the youngest, sickest and smallest premature babies who are most at risk of losing their precious sight to ROP.
This research was supported by a donation from Rosetrees Trust.