Promising protein may prevent eye damage in premature babies

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Infant Eye Treatment

A protein long thought to be one of the body's supporting players has quietly been taking a lead role in healthy eyesight, a discovery that could rapidly lead to treatments for babies born before their eyes are finished growing, University of Florida and Harvard Medical School researchers have found.

The finding, described in separate, back-to-back papers to be published in Tuesday's (June 19) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offers a new target for therapies for retinopathy of prematurity, a potentially blinding disease that annually affects about 15,000 babies.

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In newborns with the disease, oxygen-starved areas of the retina compensate by quickly growing new blood vessels. But these new vessels are fragile and leaky.

"We have 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

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