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New Eye Treatment May Save Preemies' Sight
Date:2/17/2011

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 16 (HealthDay News) -- A new study holds potentially good news for preterm infants who develop an eye condition that may cause blindness: An inexpensive drug appears to do a better job of treating the condition than the existing therapy.

Just 4 percent of babies treated with the cancer drug Avastin suffered a recurrence of retinopathy of prematurity, a disease that harms the retina. By contrast, it recurred in 22 percent of those who received laser treatment to combat the condition, which is the most common cause of blindness in infants.

The treatment, given by injection in the eye, costs $40 for both eyes and doesn't need an eye doctor on hand, making it a good option for poor countries where the disease is more common, said study author Dr. Helen A. Mintz-Hittner, a pediatric ophthalmologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

"You're paying $40 for a pair of eyes for 80 years," Mintz-Hittner said, referring to the lifespan of patients who may avoid blindness. "You can't get much more bang for your buck than that. It's really a major advance."

Retinopathy of prematurity most commonly occurs in babies born extremely prematurely who receive oxygen treatment after birth. In some cases, babies get too much oxygen and the lungs fail to deliver it properly to the body, depriving tissues in the developing eye, explained Dr. James D. Reynolds, chair of the department of ophthalmology at the University at Buffalo, who wrote a commentary accompanying the study.

"We try the best we can to duplicate the in-utero conditions, but obviously we cannot," he said. As the baby grows after birth, the developing eye can be damaged as blood vessels grow abnormally; the retinas detach in some of the infants months after birth and may result in blindness.

Laser treatment can stop the progress toward blindness, but it also may cause infants
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