Steps You Can Take To Protect Your Premature Infant's Vision

This story is part of a series on the current progression in Regenerative Medicine. This piece is part of a series dedicated to the eye and improvements in restoring vision. 


In 1999, I defined regenerative medicine as the collection of interventions that restore tissues and organs damaged by disease, injured by trauma, or worn by time to normal function. I include a full spectrum of chemical, gene, and protein-based medicines, cell-based therapies, and biomechanical interventions that achieve that goal.


Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a disease that has become increasingly common and significant in recent years. As a result of advances in neonatal care, more premature infants are surviving. Still, they are also at higher risk of retinopathy of prematurity. This disease can lead to blindness and other visual impairments, causing lifelong consequences for individuals and their families. However, there is hope. Advances in treatment methods and ongoing research are improving the outcomes for premature infants with ROP. 


What is Retinopathy of Prematurity?


Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a condition that occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow in the retina, which is the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye. This condition mainly affects premature infants, especially those born before 31 weeks of pregnancy or weighing less than 3 pounds at birth. The development of ROP is due to abnormal retinal development, which is likely associated with varying levels of oxygen exposure during pregnancy. 


ROP has five stages, ranging from mild, in which the blood vessels grow only to the edge of the retina, to severe, in which the blood vessels grow through the retina and cause retinal detachment, leading to possible blindness. 


Treatment options for ROP depend on the severity of the condition and the stage at which it is detected. In mild cases, the condition may resolve on its own without treatment. However, in more severe cases, treatment options may include laser therapy, cryotherapy, or surgery. In some cases, follow-up care, such as eye exams and monitoring, may be necessary to prevent further vision loss.


Effectiveness of ROP Treatment


Laser therapy is the standard treatment for ROP, which involves using a laser to produce minor burns on the outer edges of the retina. This procedure stops the growth of abnormal blood vessels and prevents further complications such as retinal detachment, scarring, and blindness. 

Laser therapy is performed under local anesthesia and takes only a few minutes. The physician will use an ophthalmoscope to direct the laser beam to the affected areas of the retina. The procedure may cause mild discomfort, but infants generally tolerate it well. 


Studies have shown that laser therapy is highly effective in treating ROP. The results depend on the severity of the condition and the timing of the treatment. In some cases, multiple sessions may be required to achieve optimal results. 


Anti-VEGF drugs are a type of medication that can be administered via injections to help block the growth of blood vessels. These drugs are designed to work by inhibiting the protein VEGF, which plays a crucial role in forming new blood vessels. VEGF is responsible for promoting the growth of blood vessels by signaling specific cells to divide and multiply.


However, in some cases, such as when VEGF levels are too high, this can lead to the growth of abnormal blood vessels that can cause health problems. By inhibiting the action of VEGF, anti-VEGF drugs can help prevent the development of these abnormal blood vessels, which can be beneficial in treating ROP.


In severe cases of ROP, surgical interventions such as scleral buckle or vitrectomy may be required. A scleral buckle is a silicone band placed around the eye, which helps to relieve traction on the retina. A vitrectomy involves removing the vitreous gel, the transparent substance inside the eye, and replacing it with a saline solution.


Current Clinical Trials and Outcomes


Clinical trials are being conducted to investigate new ROP treatment and prevention methods. Some studies examine the use of stem cells to repair damaged retinal tissue. At the same time, others explore the use of gene therapy to suppress abnormal blood vessel growth. Further studies investigate the effectiveness of early vitamin A supplementation in reducing the incidence of ROP in premature infants. 


Although some trials have reported promising outcomes, more research is needed to verify the safety and efficacy of these new methods. Nevertheless, advances in treatment methods, such as laser therapy, have significantly improved outcomes for premature infants with ROP, leading to better visual acuity and fewer cases of blindness.


With continued advancements in medicine and research, there is reason to be optimistic about the future of ROP treatment and outcomes for premature infants.

To learn more about the eye, read more stories at

© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.