Weeks before they even took their first breath, two infants had their spinal tubes repaired by surgeons in the first…
Weeks before they even took their first breath, two infants had their spinal tubes repaired by surgeons in the first operations of their kind in Britain.
Spina bifida surgery was performed successfully by a team at London’s University College Hospital this summer of two children while still in the womb.
Spina bifida is usually treated after birth, but research shows that the backbone of the child can earlier stop the loss of spinal fluid and lead to better long-term health and mobility outcomes.
Frankie Lavis, of Plymouth, was the first baby to undergo a revolutionary surgery for spina bifida while still in the womb of Belgium in 201
3 (Plymouth Hospital NHS Trust / PA)
A 30-strong team performed the two operations, coordinated by UCL’s professor Anne David, who has been working for three years to get the procedure to patients in Britain.
She said mothers previously had to travel to the United States, Belgium or Switzerland for the procedure.
“It’s amazing. Women now do not need to get up from Britain,” said Prof David.
“They can have their family with them. There are less costs. So all good things.”
The UCLH and Great Ormond Street Hospital operations previously traveled to Belgium to train a facility in Leuven where more than 40 such operations have been carried out.
Spina bifida is a condition that develops during pregnancy when the spinal cord is not formed properly, creating a gap that leaves the spinal cord unprotected.
This may cause the child’s spinal fluid to leak and put the brain’s development at risk, potentially leading to long-term health and mobility problems.
More than 200 children are born with spina bifida every year in Britain, according to the charity organization Shine.
The expansion of obstetric surgery in the UK will, after a major US trial, confirm the health and social benefits of the procedure.
The trial showed a 50% reduction in the need to have shunts inserted into the brain to drain fluid, a procedure that carries long-term complications.
Brain and motor function improved for non-shunted children, researchers said.
Children in the US study were also more independent after surgery, said Prof David.
“There were some children who had grown up after fetal surgery that went and you would not think they would go if they did not have it,” she said.
“So it’s important to be able to offer surgery to patients here in the UK.”
During the procedure, a cut in the womb is made in an exact position to access the child’s backbone and the seam closed the gap caused by spina bifida.
The operation, which takes about 90 minutes, presents a risk of premature work, but less invasive keyhole methods are investigated.
“We put mom on some drugs that help to relax them, but there is still a risk,” said Prof David.
She said that a “fetoscopic” approach is being developed with the hope that this will further minimize maternal complications.
The activities will be available to appropriate patients through the newly established Center for Prenatal Therapy at UCLH and GOSH, possible through funding of £ 450,000 from hospitals charities.
“These vital funds have given training for the surgical team and will fund surgery for the first 10 patients,” said UCLH’s clinical director of women’s health, Professor Donald Peebles.
Frankie Lavis, from Plymouth, became the first British baby to undergo the revolutionary operation in Belgium in 2013.