CREATED Feb. 29, 2012
Reporter: Kimberly Romo
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Expectant parents have lots of decisions to make before their baby is born, including whether to save their child's umbilical cord blood. It's rich in stem cells, and is currently being used to treat more than 80 diseases. Research is showing even more potential, especially with eye diseases that children are born with or develop later in life. New technology allows doctors to diagnose a child earlier than ever before, and it's all happening right here in our own backyard.
The Enfant Pediatric VEP Vision Testing System is the latest technology available to test a baby's vision. The machine tells doctors exactly what 6-month-old Hannah can see by measuring what's going on in her brain. The big benefit here is that it allows children who can't talk yet to be tested. Dr. Theresa Kramer is the Medical Director for the Save the Cord Foundation, a Tucson based non-profit . She says "Most children can't have their vision tested until age 3 when they can look at an eye chart and say that's an 'E', or they can look at an eye chart and identify a picture, either the cake, or the car."
In the past, if a doctor suspected a vision problem in a child who couldn't talk yet, they enlisted the help of an observer who is trained to interpret what a baby is looking at when shown a black and white striped card. The machine is more efficient, more accurate, and can be used on babies as young as just a few weeks old. Dr. Kramer says, "Having that ability to start to measure these children's vision very early - we identify children who may actually have a problem, and we can actually intervene if we've been able to store their cord blood."
Infusing the child with their own cord blood could be the answer if doctors indicate the problem can't be corrected with surgery or glasses. Dr. Joseph Miller, the UA Health Network Head of Ophthalmology says for years, doctors have been looking for a potential treatment for children who have vision problems as a result of being born prematurely, or having another developmental problem. He says, "I think cord blood has that potential for a treatment for a child."
Dr. Kramer says one of the things that we know about stem cells is the earlier you treat a child, the better their result. Stem cells are the answer, she says, because they haven't been programmed to be a specific kind of cell yet. When you put one into the body, you can change it to whatever cell is needed. Dr. Miller says, "We really believe that cord blood or other forms of stem cell replacement are going to give us a chance to provide treatments for children that for years and years we always said 'come back next year. We hope we're going to have something on the horizon.' I think the horizon is now in sight."
Dr. Miller says he believes those treatments will be available within the lifetime of every child being born now. The goal is to have this type of vision testing become the standard of care for all children.
The Save the Cord Foundation has been instrumental in making this project possible in Tucson.
For more information on the non-profit, click here