Unborn babies with spina bifida operated on, in UK first

Surgeons from across London have conducted in-womb surgery on two babies diagnosed with spina bifida.

The two operations were carried out this summer just weeks before the babies were born.

Research has shown that repairing the spine before birth prevents loss of fluid from the spinal cord and will increase the chances of walking.

‘It’s fantastic’

The surgery uses tiny stitches to repair the gap in the spinal cord. It is the first time that the operation – conducted by a team from University College London, Great Ormond Street Hospital and University College London Hospital – has been conducted in the UK.

Professor Anna David, who coordinated the operations, said: “It’s fantastic. Women now don’t have to travel out of the UK. They can have their family with them. There are less expenses. So all good things.”

According to the spina bifida charity ‘Shine’, more than 200 children are born with the condition every year in the UK.

Earlier this week MPs backed a motion to introduce abortion for any reason in England, Wales and Northern Ireland up to 24 weeks. The vote does not change the law.

Offered an abortion

In 2017 The Christian Institute reported that the same procedure helped US parents Lexi and Joshuwa Royer, after they were told during numerous visits to specialists that their baby’s ‘defect’ was severe.

The couple, who were offered an abortion, said that it was “a happy moment” when they saw the ultrasound of their son’s movement following the operation.

The UK began offering the pre-birth procedure after a major US trial confirmed its benefits.

Though currently the surgery carries risks of premature labour, a new approach is being developed to further reduce complications.

Viral video

In 2016, Roman Dinkel of Kansas City was also operated on. Since then a video of him taking his first steps on small crutches has gone viral.

When Roman was diagnosed with the spinal defect at 20 weeks his parents were also advised to abort.

Yet two years on Roman’s mother has said “often times doctors paint a very grim picture of what the life of a child with spina bifida will look like”.


“They say they’ll have severe brain damage, will be paralysed, in pain their whole life, and they make you believe that you will bring them into this world suffering until they die”.

She continued: “Those things just aren’t true. That’s outdated information”.

Related Resources