How Light Therapy Might Prevent Vision Problems in Preterm Infants
Top Breakthrough Discovery | Published April 2019 in Nature Cell Biology
Minh-Thanh Nguyen, PhD, and Richard Lang, PhD
After discovering a light-dependent molecular pathway that regulates how blood vessels develop in the eye, scientists at Cincinnati Children’s suggest it may be possible to use light therapy to help preterm infants avoid life-long vision problems.
A study in mouse models reveals that normal function of the Opsin 5-dopamine pathway is needed to ensure the correct balance of blood vessel development in the eye. This process can be disrupted in medically fragile preterm infants, with significant consequences.
“Our study indicates that the Opsin 5-dopamine pathway is part of a light-dependent disease process for retinopathy of prematurity” says Richard Lang, PhD, director of the Visual Systems Group and the study’s senior author. “It raises the interesting possibility that we might be able to use light exposure to treat this disease and save the sight of thousands of premature infants.”
Minh-Thanh Nguyen, PhD, formerly a research associate in Lang’s lab, was the study's lead author. Co-authors included Mike Iuvone, PhD, Emory University, as well as Russell Van Gelder, MD, PhD, and Ethan Buhr, PhD, from the University of Washington.
The collaborators used a variety of methods to study eye development and the influence of the Opsin 5-dopamine pathway in postnatal mice. The gene OPN5 and the protein it expresses are highly conserved among species, which makes the mouse findings potentially relevant to human development, Lang says.