Two unborn babies with spina bifida underwent in utero surgery by a 30-member team of doctors from the University College Hospital in London. Each operating procedure lasted 90 minutes, and the mothers and their babies are doing fine. The surgery was made possible thanks to participatory funding amounting to 450,000 €.
This is a “first” in the UK. Until now, British women had to travel to Belgium for this type of surgery during their pregnancy.
In Paris, 4 years ago, the teams in fetal medicine at the Armand Trousseau Hospital and the neurosurgery at Necker Children’s Hospital operated on a female baby in utero with this same disease.
At the University College London Hospital (UCLH), the lead fetal neurosurgeon Dr. Jan Deprest explains: “Operating in the womb involves making an incision, opening the uterus without doing a Caesarean section to give birth, exposing the spine and closing the defect in the spinal canal, then repairing the uterus to leave the baby safe inside.” She continues: “While neither intervention is curative, in fetal surgery, the defect is closed earlier, which prevents damage to the spinal cord in the last third of pregnancy”.
Spina bifida occurs when a baby is in the womb and the neural tube, the earliest form of the brain and spinal cord, is not properly formed, thus one or more vertebrae in the spinal column do not close all of the way.
The result is that the contents of the spinal column (spinal cord, meninges, nerves, etc) are not fully protected. This disease can be detected starting at the sixth month of pregnancy. In 80% of cases, abortions for medical reasons are proposed.