Thursday, February 10th, 2011
A new study released by the National Institutes of Health and published in The New England Journal of Medicine revealed fetal surgery (surgery performed on a fetus while it’s still in the uterus) is now possible to reduce complications from spina bifida after birth.
Spina bifida is a common birth defect where the fetus’s spine does not form fully or close completely around the spinal cord, often leaving an opening in the vertebrae. Babies born with various types of spina bifida are at risk for dangerous excess brain fluid, brain and physical deformities, loss of bladder control, trouble walking, and paralysis.
Traditionally, postnatal surgeries (surgeries after birth) are performed to correct spina bifida, which includes using a tube (shunt) to drain the fluid. Now, by closing the opening during fetal surgery, the chance for excess brain fluid can be reduced and the ability to walk without crutches, braces, or other orthotics can be increased.
For the study, 183 mothers who had fetuses with myelomeningocele volunteered for the study. Myelomeningocele is the most severe form of spina bifida where the spine protrudes through an opening in the spinal column and is enclosed in a fluid-filled sac. The women were divided randomly into two groups: one group underwent prenatal surgery (at 26 weeks of pregnancy) while the other underwent postnatal surgery.