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Member Research and Reports

GW: Study Finds Benefits of Fetal Surgery to Repair Birth Defect Continue Through Childhood

Children who underwent prenatal surgery to repair a common birth defect are more likely to walk independently, have fewer follow-up surgeries, and have better fine motor and self-care skills by ages 6 to 10 compared to children who underwent the procedure after birth, a study finds.

The study was published in Pediatrics and funded by the National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The Biostatistics Center based at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health led this study and served as the coordinating center. In this role, the Biostatistics Center managed numerous aspects of the study, including working with the researchers on the study design, writing the protocol, developing the operation manuals; designing and implementing the data collection systems; and analyzing data for the study.

The surgery corrects a serious form of spina bifida called myelomeningocele, a birth defect in which the spinal cord juts through an opening in the spine. Without surgery, the defect could cause a condition called hindbrain herniation, where the protruding cord blocks the flow of spinal fluid and pulls the brain into the base of the skull. The corrective surgery is traditionally done after birth but fetal surgery is increasingly becoming a common choice.

“This study has confirmed the differences that we saw between the groups in the original trial,” said Dr. Elizabeth Thom, principal investigator of the study and a research professor of biostatistics and bioinformatics at Milken Institute SPH. “It also provides information about longer term outcomes for women and their doctors when considering prenatal surgery, which does have some risks for both mothers and babies.”

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