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Queen's scientists teaming up to cure premature baby blindness
Date:5/17/2011

Scientists from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen's University Belfast are teaming up to develop a cure to an illness that can lead to blindness in premature babies, thanks to funding from children's charity Action Medical Research.

Two teams from the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science at Queen's are taking different approaches to a condition called Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). The condition can lead to blindness in premature babies, putting the youngest, sickest and smallest babies most at risk, including over 3,000 babies who are born more than 12 weeks early each year in the UK.

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. Evidence suggests it develops in two stages:

  • Stage 1. Premature babies have poorly developed lungs and need extra oxygen to help them breathe. Unfortunately the blood vessels that supply the eye's light-sensitive retina are damaged by this additional oxygen and stop growing properly, meaning the retina does not get enough nutrients.
  • Stage 2. Eventually, in response to this damage, new vessels grow, in an attempt to rescue the retina, but they are abnormal and actually damage the eye, causing vision loss.

The first team, led by Dr Denise McDonald, has the aim of tackling the disease at a very early stage, which will minimise the damaging effects of ROP.

The second team, led by Dr Derek Brazil, is investigating whether stem cells from babies' own umbilical cords might have the power to repair their damaged eyes and save their sight.

About one in ten babies with ROP develops severe disease, which threatens his or her sight. If this is detected early enough, laser treatment can save the most important part of a baby's vision the sharp, central vision we need to look straight ahead. However, this causes permanent loss of a baby's peripheral visio
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Contact: Claire O'Callaghan
c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk
Queen's University Belfast
Source:Eurekalert

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