In a new study, researchers made a discovery that could pave the way for therapies to reverse vision loss common in premature infants and adults.
They identified a compound that could develop therapies for a host of eye diseases that include retinopathy of prematurity and diabetic retinopathy.
The research was conducted by a team at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
Several eye disorders occur when blood vessels grow out of control in the retina, the tissue that lines the back of the eye.
In these forms of retinopathy, a web of vessels blocks light from reaching the retina, which is how we see. The overgrowth causes vision issues that can advance to total blindness.
Retinopathy in premature babies—linked to high oxygen levels in NICU incubators that interrupts normal vessel development in the eye—often resolves naturally over time.
But not always. In those cases, and in adult diseases like diabetic retinopathy, vision damage can be irreversible.
In the study, the team examined the development of blood vessels.
When they studied newborn mice, they found that levels of a specific class of cellular proteins crashed as the mice experienced normal blood vessel loss in the eye.
The team hypothesized that these cellular proteins might be an important ‘off switch’ to eliminate these vessels in a neonatal model.
This is a new way of approaching these diseases. The current methods—invasive surgeries or life-long injections into the eye—only prevent the disease from advancing and often have serious complications.
The team identified an experimental compound that disables the proteins. It allowed them to flip the switch and test the idea.
They found the compound only impacted abnormal blood vessels with slow blood flow. The normal vessels needed in a healthy eye were spared.
The findings open the door to tailored therapies to reverse vision loss. It may also have implications in shrinking tumors that contain abnormal blood vessels in other parts of the body.
The team says more research is needed, but this could be a major advance in treatment for vision loss in patients of all ages.
One author of the study is Courtney Griffin, Ph.D.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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