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Saving preemies' vision

Drug may offer new option to reverse aberrant blood vessel growth in the eyes of babies born preterm

By
6:10pm, February 16, 2011

Some premature infants with a potentially blinding eye condition called retinopathy may now have an alternative to the laser surgery currently used to treat it. A drug outperforms the surgery in newborns who have abnormal blood vessel growth in the back of the retina near the optic nerve, researchers report in the Feb. 17 New England Journal of Medicine.

The drug, bevacizumab, is used against some cancers because it inhibits manufacture of a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF, that drives vessel growth. Although VEGF is necessary for normal organ development, some premature newborns make too much in the eyes, fostering aberrant vessel networks that can lead to a detached retina and blindness if untreated.

Babies born 10 weeks or more prematurely and weighing less than 3 pounds at birth are at highest risk for this condition, called retinopathy of prematurity. It usually resolves on its own. If not, laser surgery can burn off abnormal vessels, c

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