Premature infants are at risk of developing serious complications, including poor growth and learning difficulties. Another serious complication is the vascular disorder Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), which can result in blindness.
Ann Hellström, an ophthalmologist and a professor at Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, is coordinating an international research project of several years’ duration which is now able to show that this sight-threatening condition can likely be prevented.
“There are a number of vital substances that babies normally have access to in the womb but which are drastically reduced in the event of premature birth. One such factor is the growth protein IGF-I, and through experimental and clinical studies we have been able to establish a link between this and development of ROP.
“Our preliminary results show that by returning IGF-I levels to those normally observed during pregnancy we can prevent the condition, and probably also other complications that can affect premature infants.”
The international research project, which involves researchers from Lund University Hospital, Karolinska University Hospital, Harvard Medical School, University of Cambridge, University of Amsterdam, Institut Giannina Gaslini in Italy, the pharmaceutical company Premacure AB, the biotech company Mediagnost, and the research organisation Smerud, will now receive SEK 54 million from the EU to fund further development of the project.
“If the project is successful, we will be able to offer a brand new preventive treatment capable of improving care for premature infants,” says Ann Hellström.