Researchers to study baby blindness
New research in Northern Ireland could help tackle an illness causing blindness in premature babies.
Scientists at Queen's University Belfast are teaming up to develop a cure for the condition thanks to funding from children's charity Action Medical Research.
Two teams from the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science are taking different approaches to a condition called retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).
ROP is caused by blood vessels in the eye growing abnormally and causing damage to the retina - the light-sensitive inner lining of the eye.The condition can lead to blindness in premature babies, putting the youngest, sickest and smallest babies most at risk.
Derek Brazil is to lead a team investigating whether stem cells from babies' own umbilical cords might have the power to repair their damaged eyes.
He said: "We hope our laboratory work will reveal whether vascular stem cells have the potential to repair damage to babies' eyes and save their sight. If so, it is possible that in the future vascular stem cells could be taken from a baby's own umbilical cord just after birth and then grown in the laboratory in case treatment is needed."
Taking a different approach, a team led by Denise McDonald is exploring a key step in the early stages of the disease process.
While laser treatment tackles stage two of the disease process, by stopping abnormal blood vessels from growing, by this stage the disease can already be quite severe.
Dr McDonald and her team are looking for possible new treatments which will protect the retinal blood vessels from the effect of high oxygen which occurs in stage one.
Alexandra Dedman of Action Medical Research said: "We are delighted to be funding these two expert research teams in Belfast who both have long-standing track records, recognised internationally. Their work in this area has the potential to change the lives of babies around the world suffering from this condition."