Dr Annegret Dahlmann-Noor and Miss Gill Adams, paediatric ophthalmologists at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, have led a nationwide study of infants who need treatment for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). In this condition, which occurs in babies born very prematurely, abnormal blood vessels develop at the back of the eye and can lead to a detachment of the retina and blindness. In the UK, all babies at risk have screening eye examinations from the age of 4-5 weeks after birth. The aim of this study was to find out how many babies in the UK develop the most severe forms of ROP and need treatment to prevent the retina from detaching. The group also wanted to describe current treatment patterns in the UK. The first findings from this important work have been recently published in BMJ Open (an open access journal published by the British Medical Journal) and the journal Eye, which publishes the latest clinical and laboratory based research in all aspects of the field of visual science.
The study was coordinated through the British Ophthalmic Surveillance Unit with all paediatric ophthalmologists in the UK being invited to take part and provide information on infants treated for ROP during the 12 months of the study.
The BMJ Open publication shows that about twice as many babies are being treated for ROP than has been previously estimated. There is also a change in treatment pattern: while the most commonly used treatment (90.5% of cases) is laser, nearly 10% of babies received anti-VEGF antibody injections. This study is the first published national figure for this new treatment modality and may help inform future ROP treatment trials.
In acknowledging the funding which supported this work, the team said:
We are very grateful to the supporters of Moorfields Eye Charity, without whose donations it would not have been possible to carry out this study. We have shown that many more babies need treatment for ROP than previously thought. Our work is now being used as a reference source for the planning of eye services for premature babies in the UK, and the Royal College of Ophthalmologists is reviewing the current screening guidelines.