Around 1,000 Swedish children are born more than two months too early every year. Besides an elevated risk of being struck by diseases of the brain, lungs and intestines, more than one third of these children develop the eye disease ROP (retinopathy of prematurity).
Without treatment, ROP can lead to vision impairment and blindness, and around 50 children in Sweden must be treated to save their vision every year. To identify these at-risk children, healthcare must currently rely on eye exams that might be both stressful and painful for the child. The exams are done every one or two weeks until the risk of the disease is over, usually for two to three months.
Ideintifies high-risk children
Researchers at the University of Gothenburg have now, with support from the Swedish Research Council, the research funder Vinnova and the Swedish organization De blindas vänner (Friends of the blind) developed a new, web-based method that helps doctors identify the high-risk children.
Alerts for discrepancies
The web method is based on earlier studies where the Gothenburg researchers showed how poor early growth is a risk factor: the worse the child grows in his or her first weeks in life, the greater the risk of being struck by ROP.
“The web program, which we call Winrop, analyzes the prematurely born child’s birth weight and weight gain and alerts for potential discrepancies. Our studies show that the program identifies the high-risk children with great accuracy, often several weeks and months before the first signs of disease present themselves,” says Pia Lundgren, doctoral student at the Sahlgrenska Academy.
“With this method, we get better possibilities of trying to prevent severe ROP. It also gets easier to know that we are examining the right children, so that children with lower risk can be spared unnecessarily stressful eye exams. This is good for both the individual child’s well-being and from a socioeconomic perspective.”
Low birth weight a risk factor
In her dissertation, Pia Lundgren shows that low weight at birth is a risk factor for severe ROP, especially for the somewhat older prematurely born children. In children born extremely early, a low nutrient supply in the first four weeks was a risk factor. The dissertation also shows that the child’s weight (at the time that the first signs of ROP are discovered) can be used to predict how the disease will develop.
The dissertation Growth pattern and nutritional intake as predictors of retinopathy of prematurity was defended at a public defense on January 23.
Read more about the research here
Photo above: A baby going through eye exam. Photo: Ann-Sofie Petersson
Pia Lundgren, doctoral student, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg
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