Adult stem cells could be used in the future to heal cleft palates, a pioneering new treatment in Colombia has shown.
The condition – an abnormality whereby the part of skull which connects the mouth to the nose has not developed – affects around one in every 700 births.
While easily rectified, cleft palates have been regarded as a “serious handicap” in UK abortion law, which means that an unborn child with a cleft palate could be aborted right up to birth.
Cleft palates are usually repaired with surgery in early childhood, which often involves bone grafts and carries the risk of complications.
Scientists now say that blood taken from the umbilical cord could be used as an alternative to bone grafts.
Researchers at the Hospital De San José in Bogotá successfully trialled the procedure with nine children over the last ten years.
One girl diagnosed with cleft palate while in the womb had blood taken and stored from her stem-cell rich umbilical cord once she was born.
She wore a device similar to a dental retainer to reshape the soft tissue in her jaw for the first five months of her life.
Alongside routine surgery to correct the upper lip, the girl’s stem cells were injected into the area where the bone was missing.
The procedure proved successful. The girl grew new bone, and her teeth were growing normally.
The researchers added the girl would not need any follow-up surgery, following the successful treatment.
They called for more studies to be conducted into the uses of adult stem cells.
In 2016 it was reported that the number of abortions for the minor facial defect had almost tripled since 2011.
Fiona Bruce MP said abortions on such grounds were “deeply disturbing”, while Lord Alton branded them “unconscionable”.
He said: “For the law to allow this up to birth should be unthinkable.”