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Promising protein may prevent eye damage in premature babies

GAINESVILLE, Fla. A protein long thought to be one of the bodys supporting players has quietly been taking a lead role in healthy eyesight, a discovery that could rapidly lead to treatments for babies born before their eyes are finished growing, University of Florida and Harvard Medical School researchers have found.

The finding, described in separate, back-to-back papers to be published in Tuesdays (June 19) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offers a new target for therapies for retinopathy of prematurity, a potentially blinding disease that annually affects about 15,000 babies.

In newborns with the disease, oxygen-starved areas of the retina compensate by quickly growing new blood vessels. But these new vessels are fragile and leaky.

Weve identified a protein that is part of the bodys natural defenses in oxygen-deprived conditions, said Maria B. Grant, M.D., a professor of pharmacology and therapeutics at UFs College of Medicine. When babies are born before levels of this protein are normal, blood vessels spread abnormally throughout the retina. But if we can increase the protein to more normal levels in premature babies, it should result in healthier blood vessel growth.

The protein insulin-like growth factor binding protein-3, or IGFBP-3 was thought to exist exclusively to regulate insulin-like growth factor-1, a molecular growth factor that is necessary for the development of nerve, muscle, bone, liver, kidney, lung, eye and other body tissues.

But in studies of mice and of human cells in cultures, scientists from the Program in Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at UFs McKnight Brain Institute found that IGFBP-3 activates stem cells and other reparative cells of the bone marrow and the lining of blood vessels.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of Goteborg in Sweden arrive at essentially the same conclusion in Tuesdays issue of PNAS, identifying
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Contact: John Pastor
jdpastor@ufl.edu
352-273-5815
University of Florida
18-Jun-2007


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