By Roos Döll
Last Summer at London’s University College Hospital (UCL), a team of 30 international surgeons operated on two unborn babies that had spina bifida in the womb. It is a condition that develops during pregnancy, when the bones of the spine do not form properly, creating a gap that leaves the spinal cord unprotected. The operation was the first of its kind in England.
The procedure has already been successfully performed in the US, Belgium, and Switzerland.
After many years, the surgery has proven to be more beneficial prior to the birth of the child.
The treatment has been introduced to Britain only now, due to the delay of infrastructure and a large number of ethical training sessions as the procedure has a huge risk on both the mother and the unborn baby.
According to Dr. Dominic Thompson, a fetal neurosurgeon, says that it is crucial to conduct the 90-minute procedure while the baby is still inside the womb because it gives babies a better quality of life. When the procedure takes place after birth the baby is more prone to numerous serious deficiencies, such as; incapability of walking, alterations to the brain, severe permanent damages to the nerves in the lower half of the body and lastly shunt placement (surgery to drain fluid from the brain).
The prenatal surgery involves making a large incision to open the uterus, which exposes the spine, closing the defect and then repairing the uterus to leave the baby inside the womb. Prof. Anna David, a fetal medicine consultant, stated that “it took three years to bring the procedure to Britain, where more than 200 children are born with spina bifida each year.”
There are no evident causes of the condition, however, scientists believe that a low intake of folic acid by women during pregnancy can increase the risk of the condition to develop.
To reduce the risk of this devastating condition, doctors advise pregnant women to take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.