Two Unborn Babies With Spina Bifida Undergo Spinal Repair Surgery In A Medical First For UK

Surgeons carrying out an operation at a UK hospital.
Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Surgeons have successfully repaired the spines of two unborn babies in the United Kingdom weeks before they were born, BBC reported.

The two operations, which were carried out this summer by a team of 30 doctors at the University College Hospital in London, is the first of its kind in the U.K.

The babies suffered from a condition known as spina bifida.

The condition develops during pregnancy when the bones of the unborn baby do not form properly. This creates a gap that leaves the spinal cord unprotected.

It can cause the spinal fluid of the baby to leak and places the development of the brain at risk.

Spina bifida is usually treated at birth but research has shown that repairing the baby’s spine earlier can stop the loss of spinal fluid, which can give the child improved chances for a better life.

During the procedures, the doctors cut an opening in the mothers’ womb and then stitched together the babies’ gap in the spine.

The operations reduced the babies’ odds of going through more operations to drain fluid from their brain later in life. The surgeries are also thought to improve their motor function at 2.5-years-old.

Surgeons at a hospital in Birmingham conduct an operation. Pictured are the tools used during the procedure.
  Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

“There were some children who had grown up following fetal surgery who were walking and you wouldn’t expect them to be walking if they hadn’t had it,” Anne David, from the UCL, said.

The hospital said that the women and babies are now recovering well.

The procedure usually takes an hour and a half but it carries a risk of premature labor. Researchers are now exploring less invasive methods.

Mothers previously had to go abroad to the United States, Belgium, or Switzerland for the operation, but David, who has worked on bringing the procedure to the U.K. for three years, said that women no longer have to travel out of the U.K., which could mean less expense. The women can also have the comfort of having their family with them.

According to The Telegraph, the surgery team earlier traveled to Belgium to undergo training at a facility in Leuven, where more than 40 of these operations have already been carried out.

The surgery will be available to patients through the Center for Prenatal Therapy at Great Ormond Street Hospital and the UCLH, and this is made possible by funds from the hospitals’ charities.

Donald Peebles, UCLH’s clinical director for women’s health, said that the £450,000 fund has provided the training for the surgical team and will fund the operation of the first 10 patients.