For the first time in France, surgeons have successfully performed a prenatal operation on a 20-week-old foetus suffering from the congenital disorder spina bifida, in a procedure that is still largely unheard of in Europe.
The groundbreaking surgery was performed in July at the Armand Trousseau public hospital in Paris, hospital officials revealed this week. The baby girl in question was born at full term on November 9.
“The baby and the mother are healthy,” said doctor Jean-Marie Jouannic, who with doctor Michel Zerah led the two medical teams that completed the in-utero procedure, a first in France.
Spina bifida is diagnosed when the bones of the spine are not fully formed, leaving the nerves within the spinal cord vulnerable to damage. Harm to the baby’s neurological system can begin before birth as it moves around in the mother’s womb.
If left untreated, the disorder can lead to partial or total paralysis of the lower limbs as well as build up of cerebrospinal fluid inside the brain.
Jouannic explained that after incisions to the mother’s uterus and the fetus, the operation involved covering the spinal cord and then closing the surrounding tissue and skin to protect it.
“Ten days after the surgery, the brain anomalies [in the fetus] that were caused by the disorder had disappeared,” Jouannic told the AFP news agency. “It’s incredible to be able to protect this little girl’s brain to enable future learning.”