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. Our lab has identified inhibitors of neovascularization that can limit the growth of the new blood vessels.