For the first time in the United Kingdom, doctors have performed surgery in the womb to repair the spines of 2 foetuses with open spina bifida. The 2 surgeries were separately conducted at University College London Hospitals (UCLH) and Great Ormond Street Hospital with support from National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
Anna David, a foetal medicine consultant at UCL’s Institute for Women’s Health and UCLH coordinated the surgical team of 30 members involved in these 2 surgeries.
Currently, in the United Kingdom, babies undergo surgery for spina bifida after birth. They may also need placement of shunts to drain fluid from the brain later in life. In this novel in utero procedure, the skin and womb are cut open in the same place as for a caesarean delivery, although a bit wider. The paediatric neurosurgeon then examines the spina bifida defect and closes it the same way as a postnatal closure.
According to Professor Paolo De Coppi, an NIHR Research Professor, a key benefit of in utero surgery is a reduction in the need for shunts. Non-shunted children are expected to have a higher brain function, mobility, and total independence than shunted children in the long term.