February 22, 2024

Groundbreaking surgery may prevent worst effects of spina bifida

Researchers may have found a way to effectively treat spina bifida during pregnancy.

A team of American surgeons have pioneered a groundbreaking surgical technique that may prevent many of the severe health problems caused by spina bifida.

Spina bifida is congenital defect involving an abnormal development of the spine. It is caused by an incomplete closing of the backbone and membranes around the spinal cord, and can lead to serious health problems such as impaired mobility, incontinence, and an accumulation of fluid in the brain. Many parents chose to terminate their pregnancy when they discover their child has the condition.

Yet surgeons from Baylor College of Medicine, led gynecologist Dr Michael A. Belfort, are hopeful that they can stop some of the worst effects of spina bifida through an early intervention during pregnancy.

Rather than attempting an operation within the mother's body, the new technique involves a temporary removal of the womb that allows doctors better access to spinal cord of the fetus.

Using a “fetoscope” and special surgical tools, doctors drain amniotic fluid from the back of the fetus and seal the skin over spinal cord to prevent further exposure. The womb is then inserted back into the mother.

Results from 28 cases in which the operation has been performed were reported in an August edition of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology. The intervention does not appear to have negative effects on the outcome of the pregnancy, and it vastly decreases the likelihood of mobility problems for the child. Fetuses who receive the surgery are much less likely to need a shunt, though children still often need a catheter to pass urine.

Groundbreaking surgery may prevent worst effects of spina bifida
Xavier Symons
Creative commons
birth defects