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Doctors perform successful brain surgery on unborn baby

Doctors have successfully performed brain surgery on an unborn baby girl who is now a healthy seven-week-old.

The unnamed baby is one of the first people to have ever had this experimental treatment while still in the womb. Doctors think the treatment might have saved her life.

Before she was born, doctors noted a malformation in a blood vessel in her brain during an ultrasound scan at 30 weeks. This condition can lead to blood pooling in a pocket in the brain, which can cause brain damage and heart problems, as well as respiratory problems even after birth.

On discovery of this condition, her parents signed up for a clinical trial involving in-utero surgery in the hope that doctors could fix the problem.

Dr Darren Orbach, a radiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts and member of the team that operated on the baby said “Over time the vein essentially blows up like a balloon”.

“Most babies with this condition will become very sick, very quickly”, he added.

“Over time the vein essentially blows up like a balloon.”

The baby girl’s mother was referred to Dr Orbach’s clinical trial and in March this year, she and her daughter underwent a two-hour surgical procedure when she was 34 weeks pregnant.

The girl’s mother was awake during the procedure but had an anaesthetic for the lower half of her body. Her baby also was given an anaesthetic before the surgical team operated on her brain. Feeding a tiny catheter through a needle, the team placed a series of tiny platinum coils into the blood-filled pocket. When released, the coils expanded and helped to block the bleed.

After a successful operation, the baby girl was born just a few days later and did not require any treatment for the malformation in her brain.

Dr Orbach said “The brain looks great.”

Ibrahim Jalloh, a consultant neurosurgeon at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust who was not involved in the case said “This is a very elegant and exciting solution to a difficult problem.” 

“This is a really exciting breakthrough”, says Greg James, a paediatric neurosurgeon at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.

Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said “The improvements in medicine continue to help save babies’ lives. It’s amazing that it’s even possible to operate on a baby before he or she is even born.”

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