Beams of violet light shone into the eyes of preemies could prevent vision problems in later life, study finds
- Severe nearsightedness is common in people who were born too early
- Preemies tend to have underdeveloped pathways necessary for forming blood vessels in the eye
- But beams of violet light could help regulate that pathway, a new US study found
Light therapy shone in the eyes of premature infants could prevent vision problems down the line, a new study suggests.
Babies are’t born with eyesight, but they have a ‘molecular pathway’ ready to regulate how blood vessels develop in the eye.
Myopia, severe nearsightedness, is common in people who were born too early because that pathway is usually underdeveloped in preemies.
Studying mice, researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center have found a possible prevention treatment.
Shining beams of violet-colored light into the eyes of preemies balanced their neurotransmitters, priming their eyes to develop at the same pace as their peers.
‘It raises the interesting possibility that we might be able to use light exposure to treat conditions like retinopathy of prematurity after a premature infant is born or in people with myopia,’ senior author Richard A Lang, PhD, director of the Visual Systems Group at Cincinnati Children’s, said.
Rates of myopia have rocketed in recent years – doubling in the US and UK since the 1960s.
By 2050, more than 50 percent of Americans and Western Europeans are expected to have the condition.
Experts have theorized that a driving factor is that kids spend less time outside, with less exposure to natural light.
This new study looked at harnessing the capacity of light exposure in a highly specific and novel way.
The US-Czech team discovered a molecular pathway that is crucial to the development of blood vessels in the eyes.
They found the pathway is a delicate balance of a protein (opsin 5) and a neurotransmitter (dopamine). When exposed to light, these two work together to develop the eyes vascular system.
Crucially, they also found that it is very common for this balance to be slightly off-kilter in premature babies.
Usually, they are lacking opsin 5, which means they have too much dopamine, causing the blood vessels to shrink.
The researchers used 380 nanometer violet colored light to activate signaling from opsin 5.
It was a success: they saw a drop in dopamine levels in the eye, which led to other molecular changes, helping to restore proper timing cues needed for the eye to develop.
The researchers hope to replicate the findings in human babies to pave the way to a treatment.