New spina bifida treatment using 3D printing in utero awarded €50k grant

3d-print in baarmoeder
Development into a 3D-printed seal to cover a gap caused by spina bifida (photo: LUMC)Development into a 3D-printed seal to cover a gap caused by spina bifida (photo: LUMC)

Researchers from the Leiden University and Erasmus medical centers were awarded a grant to further develop their 3D-printing technique to correct gaps in the backs of fetuses afflicted with by spina bifida. Professor Dick Oepkes of the LUMC and Alex Eggink of Erasmus created propose a minimally invasive procedure during early stages of pregnancy to print a watertight seal directly upon the unborn child, closing off the spine and nerves.

The seal is flexible and grows with the child as it develops in the womb, the LUMC revealed. If the project continues as scheduled, it could be available as a treatment within a few years.

Current options available to parents require surgically opening the mother’s abdomen, operating on the fetus, and putting it back in the womb. It is very intense on both the fetus and mother, said Oepkes, the country’s first professor of fetal therapy. And still, “toxic substances in the amniotic fluid have already damaged the nerves.”

In the pitch for the Open Mind subsidy, which gave 50 thousand euro for the project, Oepkes added that, “After birth the surgeon closes the defect on the back to cover the nerves. However, this is not a cure. The nerves are already damaged before birth; these children are wheelchair-bound for the rest of their life.”

It is a stark contrast to the 3D-printing technique, which Oepkes said will be easier, safer, and could be done earlier in pregnancy.

Complications from the most severe cases of spina bifida include problems with mobility, a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the head, an allergy to latex, and incontinence. Doctors advise many pregnant mothers to take folic acid supplements to reduce the chance of having a child with spina bifida.

The Open Mind grant was given by STW, a technology foundation whose 101-million euro annual budget comes from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Ministry for Economic Affairs (EZ), as well as private donor and business financing partners.


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