Stem cell surgery to treat spina bifida in the womb
Research on stem cells continues to advance knowledge about how healthy cells replace damaged cells in human tissues.
BBC reported on Saturday that stem cell surgery was performed by US doctors on fetuses who presented with signs of spina bifida, a defect in the spine that can sometimes lead to lifelong issues.
Three of the fetuses are now born with healthy spines thanks to the therapeutic stem cell patch method. The team of experts from UC Davis Health said they will monitor their growth for the next six years.
Spina bifida is a condition that affects the spine and is usually visible at birth when the spinal cord doesn't form properly. The neural tube defect (NTD) can appear anywhere on the spine and can cause severe mobility issues, including total paralysis of the legs.
To close the gap, surgeons developed a way to mend the gap by fitting a graft or implant in the exposed tubal area using a patch that contains immature cells, or stem cells, to grow new healthy human tissue.
Experts say they have previously attempted the trials with successful results on a lamb and a pair of English bulldog puppies.
Robby is among the first humans to be born with healthy spines thanks to this procedure, and the mom, Emily, said it was not an option to refuse the treatment.
"We didn't know about spina bifida until the diagnosis. We are so thankful that we got to be a part of this. We are giving our daughter the very best chance at a bright future," said Emily.
Recalling the moment Robbie was born in 2020, Emily says, "One of my first fears was that I wouldn't be able to see her, but they brought her over to me. I got to see her toes wiggle for the first time. It was so reassuring and a little bit out of this world."
The team of experts said it plans to treat another 35 babies to assess how well the treatment works, with regular check-ups along the way to monitor their progress.
One of the experts, Prof Paolo De Coppi, a pediatric surgeon at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital in the UK, said the use of stem cell patches might enhance results even further. "That's the hope, but we need to wait and see," he told BBC.
While the causes of spina bifida remain unknown, some deficiencies, such as not having enough folic acid, are argued to increase the risk of a baby developing the condition.
Prof Neena Modi, an expert in neonatal medicine at Imperial College London in the UK, stressed the importance of taking supplements at the time of conception and during pregnancy in order to prevent cases of spina bifida.
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