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Protein That may Prevent Eye Damage in Premature Babies Identified

ent after analyzing data from mouse and human studies.

"This discovery has a big future in helping premature babies," said Alexander V. Ljubimov, Ph.D., a professor of medicine at UCLA and director of Ophthalmology Research Laboratories at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. "The idea is to administer this already clinically available protein to premature babies to stabilize the existing vessels in the retina, prevent their loss and block the compensatory growth of new, aberrant vessels. Finding the right dose may enable babies to cope with the first phases of their life without becoming blind."

Treatments based on IGFBP-3 could proceed comparatively quickly because it is a natural protein and most likely safe, Ljubimov said. "The discovery has added credibility because independent research groups took different approaches to show essentially the same thing," said Ljubimov, who was not involved in the research. "There is independent confirmation from totally different research teams within the same journal."

At UF, researchers infused IGFBP-3 into one eye of each of nine mice before placing the animals into a high-oxygen chamber for five days. When scientists compared vascular growth within the retinas, they found blood vessels were closer to normal in eyes treated with IGFBP-3.

When UF scientists repeated the experiment in 18 mice treated with bone marrow stem cells expressing IGFBP-3, they found the treated eyes developed normally.

In addition to studies in mice, Harvard research collaborators in Sweden observed infants with retinopathy of prematurity in a forthcoming clinical study and found that the IGFBP-3 levels were lower than those of healthy infants, further suggesting that the protein helps stop oxygen-induced blood vessel loss and promotes healthy vascular regrowth.

"The implications for retinopathy are that IGFBP-3 appears to have benefit in preventing vessel loss independent of
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