Spina bifida is a condition in which the baby’s spinal cord doesn’t close properly during a pregnancy. It’s two words that soon-to-be parents don’t want to hear during an ultrasound, (I’ve heard it myself) and it’s one of the main reasons women are told to take prenatal vitamins with folic acid.
Fetal Stem Cell Treatment for Myelomeningocele
The effects of spina bifida range in severity, but cause varying degrees of cognitive, urological, (incontinence) and motor disabilities. The most common form of spina bifida is called “myelomeningocele,” in which the spinal cord emerges through the back, pulling brain tissue into the spinal column. With myelomeningocele permanent shunts are needed to drain fluid around the brain.
Fetal surgery + stem cell treatment for spina bifida
While fetal surgery for spina bifida revolutionized treatment by improving brain development, it largely came up short in helping to benefit motor function. The landmark Management of Myelomeningocele Study showed the effectiveness of fetal surgery for brain development, but most children treated were still unable to walk independently at 30 months of age.
However, new research from UC Davis Health System suggests that fetal surgery combined with stem cell treatment offers hope of a cure for spina bifida before birth.
Promising Results Treating Spina Bifida in Animals: Fetal Surgery + Stem Cell Treatment
In a recent study 12 lambs with spina bifida were given standard fetal surgery, while half of the group also received stem cell treatment.
The six animals who received the stem cell treatment showed noticeable improvement compared with the control group. All 6 animals treated with the additional stem cell therapy had the ability to walk without noticeable disability in the hours after birth.
This, of course, has led doctors to believe that such promising results in animal testing can also benefit human babies diagnosed with spina bifida as well.
- Full story from UCDavis.edu: Prenatal stem cell treatment improves mobility issues caused by spina bifida