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Identification of novel preventive therapies for ROP prevention 

The Owen lab is an NIH-funded center working to understand why preterm infants develop the blinding condition retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), with the goal of developing therapies that will prevent this devastating life-long vision loss. ROP develops, on average, four to ten weeks after preterm delivery, meaning there is a window to prevent its development. However, we currently do not sufficiently understand what causes ROP to allow for meaningful prevention. If we were able to prevent ROP, we would save the 20,000-plus infants from stressful retinal screenings done each year in the U.S., as well as the conditions caused by ROP and current gold standard treatment, including severe myopia, retinal distortion, retinal detachment, cataract, and retinal scarring. 

Dr. Owen and her team have a unique approach to understanding and identifying early factors that influence ROP risk to better prevent the development of this disease. She and her team partner with Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pathology, and Neonatology colleagues around the world to study ways in which the in-utero environment, including maternal and placental factors, may influence later development of ROP in preterm infants. They have identified novel factors that may allow us to intervene and better prevent disease within a natural model of ROP protection seen when mothers have preeclampsia. Dr. Owen and her team are currently partnering with Genentech to test these new and innovative therapeutic interventions. 

Building resources for the innovative study of human tissues 

Dr. Owen and her colleagues have developed a new protocol for acquisition, preservation, phenotyping, and biochemical analysis of human donor post-mortem eye tissues. This represents a significant advancement in systems-biology analysis of human eye disease. With this innovation, we have a systematic and reproducible protocol for understanding the genetic and molecular changes that cause eye disease within the diseased tissues rather than unaffected tissues such as peripheral blood. This gives us a much more accurate ability to pinpoint what changes cause disease and then design treatments to cure disease. 

Modeling ROP prediction 

Dr. Owen and her group have performed the most comprehensive analysis of the epidemiologic ROP risk published to date. This allowed them to identify a new model for the prediction of ROP disease in preterm infants.

They are further collaborating with their Neonatology colleagues around the country to validate this model and refine our ability to predict which infants are at greatest risk for developing ROP.