November 17 is World Prematurity Day, which is intended to raise awareness of preterm birth and the challenges faced by preterm babies and their families. According to the World Health Organization, 15 million babies are born prematurely each year–and that number is on the rise. There are many potential complications for premature babies: jaundice, respiratory distress syndrome, and chronic lung disease are just a few. One complication that is not life threatening but which can have long-term implications is retinopathy of prematurity or ROP. This is a condition where the blood vessels of the retina aren’t fully formed and can lead to retinal detachment or blindness. It affects about 15,000 babies each year.
Dr. Helen Mintz-Hittner is an ophthalmologist who has specialized in understanding and treating ROP. She graduated from Rice University in 1965 and the Baylor College of Medicine in 1969. She completed her ophthalmology residency at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and a fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology at Texas Children’s Hospital.
She has been studying ROP for nearly 40 years, first publishing on the condition in 1981. She performs laser surgery and cryogenic therapy on ROP patients. In 2011, she worked with a team to understand how well a treatment called bavacizumab might work on ROP. Bavacizumab uses antibodies to inhibit the growth of new blood vessels and is had been used in the treatment of various forms of cancer and other diseases. Mintz-Hittner and her colleagues believed that such a treatment could be used injected into the viscous of the eye to treat ROP. In a 2011 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, Mintz-Hittner describes the effectiveness of this approach, which provides the opportunity to treat some extreme cases of ROP that are unlikely to be helped by more traditional methods.
In addition to studying ROP, Mintz-Hittner also studies ophthalmic genetics, exploring the genetic factors that influence pathogenesis in the eye and she has published more than 60 research publications throughout her career.
Suggested By: Courtney Wright
Written by Nicole Hutchison