Worlds first stem cell treatment for spina bifida delivered during fetal surgery: Groundbreaking trial aims to reverse the paralysis and other abnormal functions of spina bifida before birth

Three babies have been born after receiving the world’s first spina bifida treatment combining surgery with stem cells. This was made possible by a landmark clinical trial at UC Davis Health.

The one-of-a-kind treatment, delivered while a fetus is still developing in the mother’s womb, could improve outcomes for children with this birth defect.

Launched in the spring of 2021, the clinical trial is known formally as the “CuRe Trial: Cellular Therapy for In Utero Repair of Myelomeningocele.” Thirty-five patients will be treated in total.

The three babies from the trial that have been born so far will be monitored by the research team until 30 months of age to fully assess the procedure’s safety and effectiveness.

The first phase of the trial is funded by a $9 million state grant from the state’s stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

“This clinical trial could enhance the quality of life for so many patients to come,” said Emily, the first clinical trial participant who traveled from Austin, Tex. to participate. Her daughter Robbie was born last October. “We didn’t know about spina bifida until the diagnosis. We are so thankful that we got to be a part of this. We are giving our daughter the very best chance at a bright future.”

Spina bifida, also known as myelomeningocele, occurs when spinal tissue fails to fuse properly during the early stages of pregnancy. The birth defect can lead to a range of lifelong cognitive, mobility, urinary and bowel disabilities. It affects 1,500 to 2,000 children in the U.S. every year. It is often diagnosed through ultrasound.

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