Posts Tagged ‘laser eye surgery’

New drug treatment for ROP?

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) is an abnormal growth of blood vessels in the eye. It occurs in babies born before 32 weeks of pregnancy. ROP can lead to bleeding and scarring that can damage the eye’s retina (the lining at the rear of the eye that relays messages to the brain). This can result in vision loss.

An ophthalmologist (eye doctor) will examine the baby’s eyes for signs of ROP. Most mild cases heal without treatment, with little or no vision loss. In more severe cases, however, the ophthalmologist may perform laser therapy or do a procedure called cryotherapy (freezing) to eliminate abnormal blood vessels and scars. Both treatments help protect the retina, but can have complications or side effects.

Some babies with ROP may soon have an alternative to laser or cryosurgery, according to an article published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.  A drug, bevacizumab (also called Avastin), used against some cancers because it inhibits vessel growth, was tested in infants with ROP.

In the study, 143 babies with ROP received either laser surgery or were administered bevacizumab. Of these infants, 64 had ROP centered around the optic nerve (Zone 1), and 79 had abnormal vessel growth outside that area. In the Zone 1 group, the babies benefitted much more from bevacizumab than they did  from laser surgery, as evidenced in the ROP recurrence rate several months later.  (The Zone 1 group had two out of 31 recurrences, while the laser surgery had 14 out of 33 babies showing a recurrence.) The 79 infants with ROP outside of Zone 1, however, showed no significant difference in outcome from either therapy.

This is an exciting and promising study, but it is still too soon to know the long-term effects of this drug. What are the risks compared to the benefits? Follow-up research and confirmation of results is needed before this can become widely available, but this study does provide hope for treating one of the more disabling results of early premature birth.