a close-up of a baby's feet close together and poking out of a white blanket

Retinopathy of prematurity is an eye condition that puts premature babies at risk of permanent sight loss. We’re funding equipment at St George’s Hospital which will be used for retinal imaging in premature babies at risk of developing retinopathy of prematurity.

The challenge

The early identification of babies who are at risk of developing retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) utilises screening technology including specialist imaging equipment which will visualise the back of the eye. 

At St George’s hospital, babies at risk of developing ROP are often transferred to other hospitals such as Great Ormand Street to access this specialist imaging equipment to support diagnosis and the monitoring of treatments. This is less than ideal particularly when dealing with often quite ill babies. 

What is retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)?

Learn more

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a potentially blinding disease caused by abnormal development of retinal blood vessels in premature infants. The retina is the inner layer of the eye that receives light and turns it into visual messages that are sent to the brain.

The smaller a baby is at birth, the more likely that baby is to develop ROP. This disorder — which usually develops in both eyes — is one of the most common causes of visual loss in childhood and can lead to lifelong vision impairment and blindness.

Infants with ROP are considered to be at higher risk for developing certain eye problems later in life, such as retinal detachment, myopia (nearsightedness), strabismus (crossed eyes), amblyopia (lazy eye), and glaucoma.

Finding a solution

Retinal imaging in ROP is used to view the back of the eye and greatly enhances the ability to deliver excellence of care and is rapidly becoming the standard of care internationally.

Moorfields Eye Charity has joined forces with St George’s Hospital Charity and Charity First Touch to secure specialist retinal imaging equipment needed for early diagnosis of ROP. This portable system allows wide field images to be gathered – meaning more of the retina can be pictured quickly – is compact and easy to use. Importantly, it can reduce the time which these small infants need to be held during these examinations. 

Introducing this equipment at St George’s would also reduce the need for transferring premature babies between multiple hospitals and specialist centres for these tests.

The potential

This technology will allow early identification of babies who are at risk of ROP and would benefit from treatment. Furthermore, it could help parents understand their child’s condition and facilitate informed decision making about treatment. 

Parents will be able to see the effects of their baby’s treatment, whereas previously the use of diagrams and standard photographs were the only option in facilitating this. Altogether, having local access to this equipment has the potential to reduce a lot of anxiety. 

It is hoped that this equipment could help a large number of infants and their families each year along with enhancing overall patient experience. This equipment would also enable the sharing of high-quality images to facilitate second opinions regarding treatment in more difficult cases without the need to move the infants.

The imaging technology can also be a useful tool in training future clinicians, allowing safe and detailed evaluation of retinal abnormalities without prolonged handling of ill babies.

Project Details

Funding scheme

Equipment grant [Clinical]

Grant holder

St George’s Hospital Neonatal Unit

Research area(s)

Patient experience, Paediatrics

Start date

July 2020

Grant reference

GR001170