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Landmark Study Shows That Fetal Surgery for Spina Bifida Leads to Better Outcomes - featured February 9, 2011

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[Source: Associated Press]

Pregnant women were afraid to have it. Doctors were afraid to do it. Hospitals stopped performing the surgery because the government wanted evidence it was safe and worth doing.

Now, a landmark study shows that an operation to fix a hole in the spine while the fetus is still in the womb leads to better outcomes for children with spina bifida. The operation showed such a clear benefit over waiting until the infant is born that the study was stopped early.

"This is the first hope for spina bifida fetuses," said lead researcher Dr. Scott Adzick of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, one of three places that participated in the study.

Doctors started experimenting with fetal surgery for spina bifida in the mid-1990s, cutting into the mother's abdomen and uterus to close the gap in the spine. It even became part of the abortion debate when a photo of a tiny hand poking out of a womb during surgery was published.

The government-funded study showed that babies who have the operation in the womb were more likely to walk without help and less likely to need a tube to drain fluid buildup in the brain. Fetal surgery did come with some risks, however, including a higher chance of being born premature and complications for the mother.

Read About this Study on CNN

Watch a Video on this Story on ABC News

Tags: News of the Week Spina Bifida Spinal Cord Injury Newsletter 11 February 2011