Bavarian telemedicine network to screen premature babies at risk of developing blindness

Regensburg 22 January 2001The Medical Center of the University of Regensburg, in Bavaria, Germany, and Massie Research Laboratories Inc. in Dublin, California have established the very first digital Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) screening network in Europe. The digital ROP Screening Network will link five major neonatal intensive care units in Bavaria with the University of Regensburg to provide expert assessment of ROP using advanced telemedicine techniques.

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Retinopathy of Prematurity is the result of an underdeveloped retina due to premature birth and if not identified and treated promptly can cause retinal detachment and permanent blindness. Professor Dr. Birgit Lorenz, Head of the Paediatric Ophthalmology Department at the University of Regensburg, will head-up the programme to bring unified standards of screening and treatment of ROP to neonatal intensive care units across Bavaria.

Supported by the State Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs, Family Affairs, Women and Health in Bavaria, and funded by the Bayerische Landesstiftung as well as the Bayerische Sparkassenstiftung, the Department of Paediatric Ophthalmology selected the RetCam 120 Digital Paediatric Retinal Camera for this network. Dr. Lorenz reported that the RetCam 120 provides unique technology to enable local ophthalmologists, assisted by neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) staff, to obtain and transmit digital images of the retina to the centre in Regensburg. "With this step, we are now able to provide new levels of standardised care for premature infants who are born in North-East Bavaria", stated Dr. Lorenz.

Fifty-five thousand premature babies are born in the United States each year and one thousand suffer severe visual impairment or blindness due to ROP. Infants born with a birth weight below 1500 grams are generally considered at risk of ROP, as are babies born at twenty-eight weeks or a less gestational age. Those babies require several examinations of the retina during a critical time period around 36 to 38 weeks. The RetCam 120 allows easily accessible imaging by non-ophthalmologists and the transmission of the digital images to centres where ROP expertise is available.

Massie Research Laboratories Inc. manufactures the RetCam 120 Digital Paediatric Retinal Camera for use in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for screening premature infants. ROP examinations via traditional methods are difficult and require doctors with specialised paediatric ophthalmology training. Many regional medical centres with large birthing centres around the world do not have staff to effectively screen patients for ROP.

For about fifty years, the binocular indirect ophthalmoscope (BIN) has been available for ophthalmologists to examine the paediatric retina. The BIN is difficult to use and may take nearly one year of training to accurately screen for ROP. Even today, the ophthalmologist utilises hand drawn sketches to document the status of the premature retina. In turn, the RetCam provides 24-bit colour, mega-pixel digital images, presented on a 17-inch computer monitor available for print-out or electronic transmission.

"We believe the diagnostic technique, being pioneered in Regensburg, exemplifies a new paradigm for diagnostic ophthalmology for the twenty-first century. We currently see ROP networking projects emerging in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Chile because it solves the problem of delivering advanced medical expertise to new born infants, situated across large regional areas", reported Dr. Bert Massie, founder and CEO of Massie Research Laboratories Inc.

Dr. Massie further stated that this technology is already in use world-wide for the treatment of Retinoblastoma, a malignant tumour of the retina that develops during childhood. Retinoblastoma specialists in many countries are now utilising the RetCam technology to consult with each other through the Internet, a process which has accelerated understanding of this difficult disease. Massie Research Laboratories Inc. manufactures advanced optical devices for the adult and paediatric ophthalmology markets with use of proprietary optical designs integrated with state-of-the art digital imaging technology.

Please, also read the other contributions on tele-ophthalmology within this month's VMW issue: Tele-ophthalmology no longer blind spot on the European map and Michel Pop Clinics to provide first ophthalmology tele-consultation service in Canada.


Leslie Versweyveld

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