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New Study Says Fetal Surgery Can Reduce Spina Bifida Complications

There is new hope on the horizon for babies diagnosed in the womb with the severe form of Spina bifida, Myelomeningocele. In this new study, doctors around the country have been intervening before birth in hopes that fetal surgery can reduce and even prevent the risks of future complications associated with this disease.

Babies with Myelomeningocele have a portion of their spinal cord exposed while in the womb. This exposure is considered toxic to the spinal cord when it comes into contact with waste floating in the amniotic fluid. In this new study, doctors performed fetal surgery on babies before the 26th week of pregnancy to essentially enclose the exposed part of the spinal cord. To test their findings, doctors also performed the same surgery on a different set of babies after they were born.

One year after their surgeries, the babies that went through the fetal surgery were half as likely to need brain shunts, and by age two and a half, they were twice as likely to walk without crutches or other walking devices. These babies also scored 21% higher on a test for motor skills.

However, even with such positive results, fetal surgery comes with high risks. Two babies that underwent the fetal surgery died. They were also born on average at about 34 weeks, and because of being born prematurely, 21% of these babies developed a breathing disorder. To add to this, the baby wasn’t the only one fetal surgery posed a risk to. 1/3 of the mothers that underwent the fetal surgery developed thinning and tearing to their uterus which can cause extreme complications and even ruptures with future pregnancies.

On average 1,500 babies are diagnosed annually with this severe form of Spina bifida. Even with the risk of possible complications, this study shows hope for this disease. Diane Farmer of the University California- San Francisco said, “This is a promising and exciting development for this disease, which is an otherwise relatively neglected disease.” The doctors involved in this study say that their positive results will likely encourage more hospitals and doctors to start performing more of these fetal surgeries.

To read more about this study, click HERE.

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