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Visual impairment risk in preterm infants with reduced occipital brain volumes

According to a study published in the August 2006 issue of Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science (IOVS), low weight babies with smaller occipital regional volumes// are at higher risk for impaired visual function in early childhood.

A study was conducted in New Zealand on 68 infants born between 23rd and 33rd weeks of gestation. Magnetic resonance imaging was done in all the infants at term equivalent, to measure the occipital regional brain volumes.

Thirty-five percent of the infants were later found to have abnormal oculomotor control, including impaired saccades and binocular eye alignment, at two years of age. Compared with preterm infants without impaired visual performance, the study infants with visual impairments had significantly smaller inferior occipital region brain tissue volumes.

Divyen K. Shah, MB, ChB, of Royal Children's Hospital, Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, who led the study says,

'This study is amongst the first published to link alterations in specific brain regional volumes of the visual pathway with impaired functioning in childhood for prematurely born infants. These findings help us to identify where and what is different in prematurely born infants. Such measurements could be done on an MRI scan at discharge from the neonatal unit identifying children with higher risk for later visual challenges.'

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