A seven-week-old baby is alive and well after undergoing experimental brain surgery before she was born.
According to the MIT Technology Review, the baby was diagnosed with a condition known as a vein of Galen malformation during a 30-week ultrasound.
The Boston Children’s Hospital reports that the condition is serious and can lead to congestive heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, brain damage, hydrocephalus, and death.
Despite the baby being in-utero still, the family signed her up for a clinical trial that would allow doctors to surgically operate on the fetus while she was in the womb.
Amazingly, the experimental surgery was a success and the now 7-week-old girl is among the first in the world to have undergone such a brain surgery while still in the womb.
According to the MIT Technology Review, radiologist Darren Orbach said that its believed the umbilical cord protects babies with a vein of Galen malformation while they’re in the womb, but once they’re born, their bodies have to work so much harder.
“All of a sudden there’s this enormous burden placed right on the newborn heart. Most babies with this condition will become very sick, very quickly,” Orbach explained.
Because of that, it’s critical to find treatment for babies with the condition in-utero, before they have to rely on their bodies for life. Several research teams are experimenting with treatment methods, including the surgery the little baby went through.
MIT Technology Review explains that the mother underwent the procedure when she was 34-weeks-pregnant. She was numbed but remained awake for the procedure. The fetus was given an injection to temporarily paralyze it and prevent pain. Then, doctors inserted a needle through the mother’s abdomen, through the uterus wall, and through the fetus’s skull. The needle made its way into the malformation in the fetus’s brain and released tiny platinum coils to fill the space and get blood flowing properly once again.
Just days later, the baby girl was born. She remained in the hospital for weeks to be monitored, but the doctors noted her brain looked healthy and no further treatment was necessary.
The results of the experiment were published in the journal Stroke.