French surgeons operate on foetus in womb

In what’s been hailed as a first in France, surgeons have successfully operated on a foetus in the mother’s womb to correct the birth defect, spina bifida.

French surgeons operate on foetus in womb
Surgeons in France carry out first operation on a feotus to correct spina bifida. Photo: Shutterstock

The complicated two-hour operation was carried out on a five-month-old foetus at the Necker hospital in Paris.

Details of the procedure, which was carried out earlier in the summer, have only just been revealed after the birth of the baby through a caesarean ten days ago

Following the operation, doctors saw a "normalisation of the brain abnormalities" in the foetus, with the hospital saying both mother and baby were in fine health.

“Ten days after the surgery, the brain anomalies [in the foetus] that were caused by the disorder had disappeared,” Dr Jean-Marie Jouannic, who led the procedure, told the AFP news agency. “It’s incredible to be able to protect this little girl’s brain to enable future learning.”

If left untreated, the spina bifida can lead to partial or total paralysis of the lower limbs as well as a build up of fluid inside the brain.

After discovering the foetus had the defect, a disabling congenital disorder which leaves a gap in the spine, doctors offered the mother the option of the operation, which comes with a risk of causing a premature birth.

The surgery involves cutting through the mother’s abdomen, her womb and the amniotic sac surrounding the baby. The baby has to be kept face down in the fluid to ensure it doesn’t start to breathe on its own.

There was the added concern that the surgery had never before been carried out in France, with only around a dozen hospitals offering it worldwide.

“In France we have been considering this surgery for around ten years. Many were asking whether there was a place for this type of intervention in our country,” Jouannic told Le Parisien newspaper.

“In reality the pre-natal methods of diagnosis in France are among the best in the world. The majority of couples choose to terminate their pregnancy when they find out [that there is a problem of this nature],” he added.

“Today there is a demand from couples who want to undergo this surgery. It would almost be unethical not to offer it to them.”

Dr Jouannic points out that the baby will not be cured of the birth defect but the consequences of it will be reduced as a result of the surgery.

The mother and baby are expected to leave hospital in the next few days.

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France investigates spike in babies born with arm defects

France's health minister on Sunday announced a new investigation into the births of several babies with upper limb defects in various parts of the country in recent years, saying it was "unacceptable" no cause had been found.

France investigates spike in babies born with arm defects
Photo: Depositphotos
Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said she and her environment counterpart Francois de Rugy had decided to look more closely at what caused 14 babies to be born with stunted or missing arms since 2007, two weeks after health authorities said they had failed to find an explanation.
The cases have been concentrated in three French “departments” or administrative areas: Ain near the Swiss border, which had seven cases between 2009 and 2014; Brittany on the West coast which had four cases between 2011 and 2013; and Loire-Atlantique, south of Brittany, which had three cases in 2007-2008.
In an October 4 report France's public health agency said that while the number of cases in the Ain area was not above the national average, the numbers in Brittany and Loire-Atlantique were statistically “excessive”. But it said it found no “common exposure” to substances that could explain them.
Fewer than 150 babies are born each year in France with upper limb defects, which occur when part of, or the entire arm, fails to form completely during pregnancy. While the cause of the defects is unknown, research has shown that exposure of the mother to certain chemicals or medication during the pregnancy can increase the risk.
Buzyn told LCI channel that environmental experts would now join health experts in investigating the cases to try to shed light on the phenomenon.
“We cannot content ourselves with saying we didn't find the case, that's unacceptable,” she said.
In the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of babies around the world were born with missing or stunted limbs linked to the use of the drug thalidomide, which was used to treat nausea in pregnant women. It was banned in the 1960s.