(PHILADELPHIA) - A new study suggests children with spina bifida, a sometimes-debilitating birth defect in which the spine fails to close around the spinal cord during the first months of pregnancy, may do better in the long run if they have surgery before they are even born.
Researchers from nearly a dozen centers nationwide compared nearly 200 babies with spina bifida, half of whom underwent surgery in utero, while the other half underwent surgery after birth. They found that after one year, those who had surgery before birth were 30 percent less likely to need follow-up surgeries than infants who had surgery after birth.
"This is a big breakthrough. For the first time we can show a clear cut benefit, treating a non-life-threatening malformation by repairing it before birth," said Dr. Scott Adzick, chief of surgery at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and first author of the study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Spina bifida is often detected five to seven months after pregnancy begins. Surgeons can go inside a pregnant woman's uterus and gently stitch up the open spinal cord of the developing fetus. This stops the leaking of spinal fluid and spares a child brain and nerve damage.
Seven out of 10,000 babies in the U.S. are born with spina bifida and often require immediate surgery after birth to avoid complications, according to the Spina Bifida Association.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio