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Discovery Could Prevent Blindness in Preemies

Babies at risk for vision loss when they leave incubators, study suggests

FRIDAY, March 4 (HeathDay News) -- Doctors say they have discovered a protein that could prove key to preventing blindness in premature babies.

Premature birth carries a risk of multiple disabilities, including retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). Babies with ROP have poor vision and in many cases go blind.

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have identified a protein in mice called HIF-2* that is crucial in retina formation because it promotes blood flow and oxygen delivery.

They believe that premature babies who are initially housed in oxygen-rich incubators may suffer eye damage when they are removed because the protein is triggered inappropriately.

Lead researcher Dr. Yu-Guang He said if doctors can find a way to shut down the protein when the babies are placed on regular oxygen, they may be able to prevent that damage.

"Of preemies weighing less than 2.75 pounds, 50 percent will develop ROP," the Texas researcher said. However, this latest discovery "provides new hope for these babies," he said.

The findings are reported in the March issue of Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science.

More information

The Blind Children's Center has more about childhood eye disorders.

SOURCES: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, news release, Feb. 22, 2005
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