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The Discovery of Retrolental Fibroplasia and the Role of Oxygen: A Historical Review, 1942–1956

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Nearly 50 years after it was thought to be conquered, retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) continues to cause vision disturbances and blindness among prematurely born infants. During the 1940s and early 1950s, researchers and caregivers first identified and struggled to eliminate this problem, which seemed to come from nowhere and was concentrated among the most advanced premature nurseries in the U.S. Research studies initially identified many potential causes, none of which could be proved conclusively. By the mid-1950s, oxygen was identified as the culprit, and its use was immediately restricted. The rate of blindness among premature infants decreased significantly. ROP was not cured, however. By the 1960s, it had reappeared. The history of ROP serves to remind us that, despite our best intentions, the care and treatment of premature newborns will always carry with it the possibility of iatrogenic disease. This caution is worth remembering as we work to expand the quality and quantity of clinical research.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2004

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