What can physicians do to prevent blindness in premature babies? Researchers at the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah are getting closer to an answer with the most comprehensive study on the subject to date.

While retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is the world’s leading cause of childhood blindness, it’s difficult to precisely determine which infants will get the disease. A recent study by Leah Owen, MD, PhD, and Margaret DeAngelis, PhD, narrows in on the risk factors.

Owen and DeAngelis analyzed more than 50 characteristics of nearly 500 mothers and their premature babies born between 2010 and 2015, using advanced statistical calculations to identify which factors lead to ROP. They found that in addition to early birth and low birth weight, the need for surgery and exposure to magnesium sulfate—a common eclampsia treatment—best predict risk.

They’re now using their model in a new neonatal intensive care unit study examining whether delaying elective surgical procedures beyond the ROP age range can better protect vision in preemies.

“Our ultimate goal is to reduce the number of children who suffer from ROP,” said Owen.

The risk factor study was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute Of Child Health & Human Development and the Office of Research on Women's Health of the National Institutes of Health.