Doctors in Milan have successfully used a new technique to correct spina bifida in an unborn baby at 22 weeks.
A team of gynecologists and neurosurgeons at the city’s San Raffaele Hospital have successfully performed the “complete neurosurgical correction of spina bifida in utero,” local media reports.
The condition was diagnosed at the 19th week of pregnancy, and the operation, which lasted just over two hours, was carried out three weeks later.
The San Raffaele team, coordinated by Massimo Candiani, head physician of Gynecology and Obstetrics, and Pietro Mortini, head of Neurosurgery, used a reduced invasive technique aimed at minimising the chance of traumas to the uterus and fetus.
Doctors were able to pierce the amniotic sac through a single tiny incision of the uterus, the hospital told Italian media, and corrected the malformation in the spine with micro-tools and advanced neurosurgery techniques.
The mother is doing well, the hospital said, and has already been allowed to go home.
San Raffaele hospital in Milan. File photo.
Spina bifida is a birth defect that occurs when a baby’s spinal cord does not develop properly during early pregnancy.
Developmental anomalies, which usually occur in the first 8-10 weeks, mean the vertebrae fail to connect properly. The condition can cause loss of mobility of the lower limbs and neurological complications.
Children born with the condition usually require ongoing medical care throughout their lives.
Massimo Candiani, head of Gynecology and Obstetrics, said the “exceptional operation” will have better results than any treatments carried out once babies are born.
“International scientific evidence shows that children with spina bifida operated on in utero have fewer neurological consequences after birth and a better chance of recovery compared to those operated on as newborns,” explained Pietro Mortini, head of neurosurgery at the hospital.
“The repair process actually continues during the pregnancy in the weeks following the intervention,” he explained, “bringing the fetal structures and neurological functions to normal”