Erythropoetin should be used with caution for retinopathy

Physicians may have to be careful prescribing erythropoietin to patients with retinopathy.

Boston-The hormone erythropoietin, used to boost red blood cell production, also keeps blood vessels alive and growing in the eye, according to a recent study in mice. Given this, physicians may have to be careful prescribing the hormone to patients affected by abnormal blood-vessel growth, including patients with retinopathy.

Timing of administration also can determine whether the hormone is a risk or benefit, according to the study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Boosting erythropoietin early slowed the disease while raising levels later, when deformed cells were present, appeared to accelerate the disease.

"We're not saying, 'don't do it.' We're saying, 'think about it,'" said Lois Smith, MD, PhD, Children's Hospital Boston. "Physicians should look at the state of the eye before giving erythropoietin to patients with retinopathy. They should consider not giving it to patients with full-blown retinopathy, in which abnormal vessels are present, because our work suggests it may accelerate the disease. However, if a patient is early on in the disease, then our work suggests erythropoietin may be beneficial."