Mater undertakes Australian first in-utero spinal surgery

Mater undertakes Australian first in-utero spinal surgery

A team from Mater, in collaboration with a team from Vanderbilt University Hospital in the USA, are the first in Australia to have performed in-utero spinal surgery on a baby diagnosed with spina bifida at Mater Mothers' Hospital.

Spina Bifida is a condition where the lower part of a baby’s spine is open and it affects 1 in 2000 pregnancies in Australia.  Currently families often discover the diagnosis of spina bifida at their 18 to 20 week ultrasound scan and to date, Australian parents have had to wait until the baby is born to perform surgery.

A seven year trial in the US (MOMS study) demonstrated clear benefits for babies who undergo prenatal in-utero surgery to treat spina bifida in comparison to surgery after the baby is born.  Prenatal surgery for spina bifida was pioneered by a team at Vanderbilt University Hospital in the USA in 1997.  A team from Vanderbilt have travelled to Mater Mothers’ Hospital in Brisbane to assist in the first Australian case of prenatal in-utero surgery for spina bifida. 

Mater’s team, led by Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine Dr Glenn Gardener, performed the surgery on a 24 week-old in-utero baby yesterday.

“The surgery went as well as we could have hoped and both mother and baby are doing well.  My sincere thanks go to the Vanderbilt team who have supported and assisted us to complete this surgery in Australia,” Dr Gardener said.

“While this surgery isn’t a cure for spina bifida it does significantly improve the outcomes for babies with spina bifida and I’m delighted we have been able to perform this surgery, saving them the added stress of travelling overseas to access this treatment.”

To ensure the surgery went smoothly, the teams from Vanderbilt and Mater both participated in a simulated surgery rehearsal prior to the actual surgery taking place.

“To be able to simulate the surgery is an amazing opportunity to be able to step through the procedure, find out if there are any issues and to play out different scenarios to ensure that safety for the mother and baby is optimised prior to the actual day of surgery,” Dr Gardener said.

“Ultimately it is our hope that through this partnership between Mater Mothers’ Hospital and the Vanderbilt team, we will be able to provide hope and support for these families in Australia.”

This surgery was able to be carried out, thanks to donations including one from the Mater Mothers’ Hospitals Auxiliary.

Please visit our Maternal Fetal Medicine page for further information.


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For urgent assessment at any stage of your pregnancy, please present to your nearest emergency centre or Mater Mothers’ 24/7 Pregnancy Assessment Centre in South Brisbane.

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