Health Watch: Detecting Retinoblastoma

Retinoblastoma: it's an aggressive cancer in children that robs them of their sight.

Now doctors have found a new way of detecting retinoblastoma that may end up saving the child's eyes and life.

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You would never know six years ago, Ruby Chan was born three months premature. Three months later, she was diagnosed with a life-threatening, sight-stealing disease.

Nellie Chan, Ruby's mom, said, "She wasn't even supposed to be born yet at this point and they were like, we'd like to take her eye out tomorrow."

She was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eye where tumors develop behind the retina.

Instead of operating, her parents researched. They found an ocular oncologist at Children's Hospital Los Angeles Jesse Berry, MD.

Berry developed a liquid biopsy for children like Ruby that answers many of the unknowns.

Using a needle, a pea-sized amount of liquid is extracted.

"Instead of placing the needle directly into the tumor, we actually extract a very little bit of liquid called the aqueous humor from the front of the eye," Berry explained.

In a research setting only, that liquid is tested for DNA molecules that are shed from the tumor cells. Doctors can predict with 75 to 85 percent accuracy if the tumor will respond to standard treatments. Ruby had chemo to reduce the size of the tumors and more than 70 laser procedures to burn the edges of them.

Tumors in Chan's left eye have not impacted her sight. The original tumor in Chan's right eye has left her with 25 percent of her vision.

But with the help of targeted therapies they're hoping to save both of Ruby's eyes.

Children's Hospital Los Angeles is now running a multicenter trial. So, following strict research protocols, surgeons from all over the country can take a sample of the aqueous humor and send it to Dr. Berry and her team for evaluation.

But parents, be aware. The best detection may be you! When looking at your child's photograph, instead of the typical red eye from flash photography in a child with retinoblastoma, the pupil will appear white.

Contributors: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Marsha Lewis, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.
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