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Retinopathy of Prematurity
When children are born prematurely, they are placed into an incubator in which they breath oxygen levels that are higher than normal (hyperoxic). This is because their lungs are not fully developed and require supplemental oxygen. This hyperoxic environment stops the process of retinal vasculogenesis and causes newly formed retinal blood vessels to die. This poorly vascularized, ischemic retina makes angiogenic factors that cause abnormal growth of retinal blood vessels (angiogenesis). The new blood vessels grow up and out of the retina where they can bleed and cause blindness; this is called retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).
The Lutty lab uses an animal model of ROP and retinal cells in culture to study the death of retinal endothelial cells in hyperoxia and their abnormal regrowth afterwards. Picture 2 shows the normal appearance of a newborn retina (top), and then the retina of an animal exposed to to hyperoxia after the new blood vessels have grown (middle). There is a y-shaped veil of neovascularization growing above the retina (arrow). The bottom picture is a section through the ROP retina shown in the middle picture that shows the new blood vessels over the retina (arrow) that are tugging on the retina, causing the retina to detach in two areas from the back of the eye. Our lab has identified inhibitors of neovascularization that can limit the growth of the new blood vessels.