UC Davis Researchers Using New Procedure To Treat Spina Bifida

Thursday, October 13th 2022, 12:14 pm

By: CBS News

Researchers at UC Davis believe a new experimental procedure may help treat Spina Bifida.

According to the Spina Bifida Association,

"The condition is a type of neural tube defect (NTD) that occurs when a baby's neural tube fails to develop or close properly — the literal meaning for Spina Bifida is 'split spine.' Typically occurring within the first 28 days of pregnancy while the neural tube is forming, Spina Bifida often occurs before a woman knows she is pregnant."

The research team performed its first-ever human trials using stem cells in the womb to treat Spina Bifida. 

Michelle Johnson's baby was the second patient to undergo the procedure. She says she first learned about her child's condition after her radiologist called her following her 22-week ultrasound.

"His voice was trembling, and he said I need to talk to you about your ultrasound," Johnson said.

He told her that her baby has Spina Bifida, a rare spinal condition where the bone surrounding the spinal cord doesn't form properly.

The condition can leave the spinal cord exposed and lead to lifelong walking and mobility problems and even paralysis.

The defect affects roughly 1,400 babies each year.

Without many treatments, Johnson was referred to a new experimental procedure that could help treat the condition. It is called the CuRe Trial.

After decades of research, Dr. Diane Farmer is leading a team of more than 40 researchers in performing the world's first human clinical trials using stem cells that help treat the defect in utero. 

The procedure involves applying the stem cell derived from the placentas to the spinal cord in the developing fetus.

"The stem cells help us repair it, regenerate it and return it to its normal function," Dr. Farmer said.

Dr. Farmer says it could take years to find out the efficacy of the surgery. But so far, the first two procedures have proved to be safe and successful.

"This study, just like many studies, is in its early phase. We won't be able to do the rigorous analysis until the babies get a little older," Dr. Farmer said.

Meanwhile, Johnson says her baby, named Toby, is normal. Videos sent to CBS13 show Toby smiling and wiggling his feet like any other baby.

"I feel incredibly blessed, fortunate, and lucky," Johnson said. The CuRe Trial is taking applications, but spots are limited. 

First published on October 12, 2022 / 7:23 PM

© 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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