ISLAMABAD: More than eighty percent of premature babies who weigh less than 1.5 kilogrammes at time of birth have a high risk of developing the disorganised growth of retinal blood vessels, which can cause vision problems including permanent blindness.Dr Wajid Ali Khan, the chief of medical services at Al Shifa Trust Eye Hospital, said this while talking to reporters.“Babies born prematurely, before 266 days, have many obstacles to overcome in their first fragile weeks, one of which is eye development that can be resolved through screening and surgical procedure to help avoid serious eyesight problems later in the life,” he said.He said that the blood vessels of the retina began to develop three months after conception and completed their growth at the time of normal birth. “If an infant is born prematurely, eye development can be disrupted. Using excess oxygen to treat premature babies in the hospitals stimulates abnormal vessel growth in eyes with the smallest and sickest having the highest risk of facing devastating effects of Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), the leading cause of paediatric retinal blindness,” he said.“Studies have shown that keeping the oxygen saturation at a lower level from birth can reduce the rate of advanced ROP,” he said.He said that all parents must include a vision screening in their list of baby check-ups between six and twelve months of age as premature infants deserved constant attention of an ophthalmologist because of his or her increased risk for eye misalignment, amblyopia and the need for glasses to developing normal vision.Dr Wajid said that Al Shifa had already signed memoranda of understand (MoUs) with Fuji Foundation Hospital, the Combined Military Hospital, and the Benazir Bhutto Hospital to provide treatment facility to newborns having the risk of ROP. “Al-Shifa is the only hospital in the SAARC region and among few in the world having the latest facilities and skills to treat newborns with ROP,” he said.“So far, Al Shifa has cured around 5,000 infants in the last four years and the number is bound to increase as the awareness grows,” he said.“We are here to provide free guidance to all the state-owned and private healthcare facilities, including those in other countries to help save thousands from plunging into darkness for life,” he said.“The hospital has over 40 highly qualified eye surgeons with pediatric department having some of the most senior eye specialists. The hospital is expanding further, which will allow the pediatric department to handle over 500 OPD patients per day in coming years; the current capacity stands at 250-300 patients per day,” he said.Plant compound: New research may have found a plant-derived chemical compound that is much more effective than azidothymidine in the fight against HIV/AIDS.After separating the extracts of the stems and roots of this plant using bioassay-guided isolation – which is the most common procedure for separating extracted compounds based on their biological activity – the researchers found the “anti-HIV arylnaphthalene lignan glycoside” that is patentiflorin A.Then, researcher Prof Rong and team assessed the effect of the compound against the M-tropic and T-tropic HIV isolates. ‘Tropism’ refers to the type of cells that the virus is able to invade. ‘M-tropism’ refers to the virus’ ability to invade macrophages, while ‘T-tropism’ refers to its ability to invade T cells, which are both white blood cells with key roles in immunity.The tropism tests showed that patentiflorin A had “a significantly higher inhibition effect than the clinically used anti-HIV drug AZT”.“Patentiflorin A was able to inhibit the action of reverse transcriptase much more effectively than AZT, and was able to do this both in the earliest stages of HIV infection when the virus enters macrophage cells, and alter infection when it is present in T cells of the immune system,” Prof Rong explains.Prof Lijun Rong said: “If we can make the drug in the lab, we don’t need to establish farms to grow and harvest the plant, which requires significant financial investment, not to mention it has an environmental impact.”“Patentiflorin A represents a novel anti-HIV agent that can be added to the current anti-HIV drug cocktail regimens to increase suppression of the virus and prevention of AIDS,” he said.