The study is published in the Feb. 17 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Avastin (bevacizumab), is best known as a chemotherapy drug, but it's also used to treat eye disease. The researchers tested either the drug or laser therapy on 143 infants and found that it worked well on babies with one type of the disease.
The drug works by blocking the abnormal growth of blood vessels, Reynolds said. "We are going to save some babies who would have gone blind with the laser treatment," Reynolds said. "It will change the patterns of practice overnight."
Timing of the injections is critical to the drug's success, the authors noted, and more research is necessary to determine the appropriate dose for different forms of the disease.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced a plan to rescind its conditional approval of Avastin for treating breast cancer after serious side effects were noted in some patients and recent studies failed to show survival benefit.
Addressing safety concerns, the authors of this study said no ill effects were seen and that the dose used in the eye is only a fraction of that needed for cancer treatment.
However, because of the small size of their study, they recommend ongoing monitoring of children injected with Avastin to watch for any systemic effects.
The study was funded by the Research to Prevent Blindness, the U.S. National Eye Institute and other non-industry sources.
For more about retinopathy of prematurity, see the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Helen A. Mintz-Hittner, pediatric ophthalmologist, Un
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