In utero surgery shows promise in treating spina bifida

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Preliminary findings suggest that fetal surgery to repair defects from spina bifida has several beneficial effects.

Lead investigator Dr. Mark Johnson of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia presented his team's surgical results Thursday at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine's 22nd annual meeting in New Orleans.

Dr. Johnson's team operated on 41 fetuses with spina bifida who were 20 to 26 weeks gestational age. Three fetuses died during premature delivery and two are awaiting delivery. The remaining fetuses were delivered at a mean of 34.5 weeks.

All infants experienced a reversal of the Arnold-Chiari hindbrain herniation and 67% demonstrated leg function that was better than predicted, Dr. Johnson told Reuters Health. In utero repair was also associated with a reduction in the need for ventriculoperitoneal shunting.

So far none of the infants have needed additional surgery, Dr. Johnson said. More research is warranted, but these early results indicate that in utero repair provides many benefits, he added.

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