Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast are working to find a cure for a condition that can cause blindness in premature babies by using stem cells from their umbilical cords.
Two teams from the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science at the university are working to find different ways of preventing and treating the damage caused by Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP).
The condition can lead to premature babies losing their sight — putting the youngest, sickest and smallest babies in Northern Ireland at risk.
Evidence suggests it develops in two stages. Premature babies have poorly developed lungs and need extra oxygen to help them breathe. However, the blood vessels that supply the eye’s light-sensitive retina are damaged by this additional oxygen and stop growing properly, meaning the retina does not get enough nutrients.
Eventually, in response to this damage new vessels grow in an attempt to rescue the retina, but they are abnormal and damage the eye, causing vision loss.
One research team has the aim of tackling the disease at a very early stage which would minimise the damaging effects of ROP. The second team, is investigating whether stem cells from babies’ own umbilical cords might have the power to repair their damaged eyes and save their sight.
This important research is funded by Action Medical Research and the full story is available at http://bit.ly/jqC057
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