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Protein That may Prevent Eye Damage in Premature Babies Identified

Researchers have discovered that a specific protein plays a vital role in healthy eyesight, and may prevent eye damage in premature babies. University of Florida and Harvard Medical School researchers' discoveryould speedily lead to treatments for babies born before their eyes are finished growing.

The finding, to be published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offers a new objective for therapies for retinopathy of prematurity, a potentially blinding disease that affects about 15,000 babies every year.

In newborns with the disease, oxygen-starved areas of the retina compensate by rapidly growing new blood vessels, but these new vessels are brittle and permeable.

"We've identified a protein that is part of the body's natural defenses in oxygen-deprived conditions," said Maria B. Grant, M.D., a professor of pharmacology and therapeutics at UF's College of Medicine. "When babies are born before levels of this protein are normal, blood vessels spread abnormally throughout the retina. But if we can increase the protein to more normal levels in premature babies, it should result in healthier blood vessel growth."

The protein - insulin-like growth factor binding protein-3, or IGFBP-3 - was thought to survive entirely to regulate insulin-like growth factor-1, a molecular growth factor that is essential for the development of nerve, muscle, bone, liver, kidney, lung, eye and other body tissues.

But in studies of mice and of human cells in cultures, scientists from the Program in Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at UF's McKnight Brain Institute found that IGFBP-3 activates stem cells and other reparative cells of the bone marrow and the lining of blood vessels.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of Goteborg in Sweden arrive at fundamentally the same conclusion in this study, identifying the protein IGFBP-3 as a promising therapeutic instrum
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