In 1967, researchers saw the light in jaundice treatment | Science News

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50 Years Ago

In 1967, researchers saw the light in jaundice treatment

Excerpt from the June 17, 1967, issue of Science News

By
5:00am, June 15, 2017
baby light exposure

LET THERE BE LIGHT  Exposure to blue-green light helps babies get rid of jaundice-causing molecules that build up in their bodies. First discovered 50 years ago, light therapy is now a popular treatment in U.S. hospitals for the condition.

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Science News cover from June 17, 1967Light helps premature babies

Premature babies, who often develop jaundice because of an excess of bile pigment called bilirubin, can be saved from this dangerous condition by the use of fluorescent light.… The light alters the chemistry of bilirubin so it can be excreted with the bile. Exchange transfusion is the usual treatment when jaundice occurs but this drastic procedure carries a ... risk of death. —Science News, June 17, 1967

Update

Preemies aren’t the only babies at risk for jaundice. About 60 percent of full-term infants also develop the condition. Severe cases can cause brain damage if untreated. But today, some researchers warn that light therapy, now widely used, may not work for babies whose bilirubin levels are very high. And studies have begun to suggest a link between the therapy and certain childhood cancers (SN Online: 1/30/15). Though the risk of developing cancer is small, doctors should be cautious about prescribing the treatment, researchers wrote in 2016 in Pediatrics.

Citations

A.C. Wickremasinghe et al. Neonatal phototherapy and infantile cancer. Pediatrics. Vol. 137, June 2016, e20151353. doi: 10.1542/peds.2015-1353.
 
Light helps premature babies. Science News. Vol. 91, June 17, 1967, p. 571.

Further Reading

L. Guterman. Even when correct, diagnoses can harm kids. Science News Online, January 30, 2015.

S. Milius. Animals’ jaundice pigment found in plants. Science News Online, February 20, 2009.

J. Travis. Tea for too much bilirubin? Science News Online, February 26, 2004.

J. Travis. Bilirubin: Both villain and hero? Science News. Vol. 162, December 14, 2002, p. 381.

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