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Subspecialties Pediatric, Basic & Translational Research, Retina

Fatty Acids Versus ROP

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In the US, retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) affects an estimated 14,000 infants annually (1). Most commonly associated with preterm babies weighing less than three pounds at birth, the eye disease can develop into serious cases of myopia, cataracts, glaucoma, retinal detachment, and/or blindness (1).

Previous research has sought to identify preventative measures for ROP. Just this year, Medical College of Georgia scientists found that targeting the bile acid receptor could prevent the development of ROP (2). Similarly, a new study funded by the National Eye Institute, found that an inexpensive, smartphone camera can help doctors identify preterm infants in need of ROP treatment (3).

Adding to this ongoing investigation, a 2.5-year follow-up of the Mega Donna Mega clinical trial has found that preterm infants develop better visual function by the age of two-and-a-half when given a combination of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (4). The study, conducted at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, between 2016 and 2019, consisted of 178 extremely preterm (EPT) infants (those born at less than 28 weeks of gestation). After being randomized, roughly half of the children were given a supplementation of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA) – fatty acids currently not included in supplements given to EPT babies after birth.

Although further studies are needed to confirm the clinical utility of DHA and AA, the 2.5-year follow up shows promising results. “The study shows that children who have received the combination supplement had improved visual function, regardless of whether or not they had previously had ROP,” said Pia Lundgren, the study’s first author, in a University of Gothenburg news story (5). “The improved visual development was thus not only due to the beneficial effect on the retina. The supplement also seems to have improved the brain’s ability to interpret visual impressions.”

In continued studies on the same group of children, Lundgren added that they would be exploring cognitive and neurological development in more detail.

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  1. A Nair et al., “A Review on the Incidence and Related Risk Factors of Retinopathy of Prematurity Across Various Countries,” Cureus, [Online ahead of print] (2022). PMID: 36589197.
  2. National Eye Institute, “Bile acid receptor could be innovative target in protecting the vision of premature newborns” (2023). Available at:
  3. National Eye Institute, “Saving premature babies’ vision with a smartphone camera and artificial intelligence” (2023). Available at:
  4. P Lundgren et al., “Visual outcome at 2.5 years of age in ω-3 and ω-6 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplemented preterm infants: a follow-up of a randomized controlled trial,” Lancet Reg Health Eur, [Online ahead of print] (2023). PMID: 37671123.
  5. University of Gothenburg, “Preterm babies given certain fatty acids have better vision” (2023). Available at:
About the Author
Sarah Healey

Communicating stories in a way that is accessible to all was one of the focal points of my Creative Writing degree. Although writing magical realism is a fun endeavor (and one I still dabble in), getting to the heart of human stories has always been the driving motivator behind my writing. At Texere, I am able to connect with the people behind scientific breakthroughs and share their stories in a way that is impactful and engaging.

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