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World’s First In Utero Stem Cell Treatment for Spina Bifida Performed at UC Davis Children’s Hospital

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UC Davis Children’s Hospital recently made medical history by performing the world’s first in utero stem cell treatment for spina bifida.

Led by surgeon-scientist Diana Farmer, this groundbreaking procedure aims to reverse the damage caused by spina bifida and potentially cure the condition.

With FDA approval and a $9 million grant from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, the team at UC Davis is paving the way for a new era in treating spina bifida.

Understanding Spina Bifida:

Spina bifida is a condition in which a fetus’s spinal tissue fails to close properly, leaving the spinal cord exposed. This can lead to severe complications and lifelong disabilities. The Spina Bifida Association estimates that there are over 70,000 people in the US living with this condition.

Current Treatment Options:

Currently, surgeons can perform fetal surgery to close the open spinal cord, preventing further damage. However, many patients still experience abnormal function, such as paralysis.

Dr. Farmer and her team at UC Davis aim to go beyond just preventing further damage and actually reverse the effects of spina bifida.

The CuRe Trial:

The name of the trial is Cellular Therapy for In Utero Repair of Myelomeningocele, abbreviated as CuRe. The team has received FDA approval to begin enrolling human patients and has secured a $9 million grant for their research.

Dr. Farmer has been working towards this milestone for almost 25 years.

The Role of Stem Cells:

Stem cells have shown promise in treating various conditions before birth. Dr. Farmer believes that by applying stem cells to the spinal cord, they can protect against future injury and reverse existing damage caused by spina bifida.

The team at UC Davis has been working on identifying the most suitable stem cells for this treatment.

Mesenchymal Stem Cells from the Placenta:

After extensive research, the team found that mesenchymal stem cells from the placenta were the most suitable for the in utero treatment.

These cells have fewer complications compared to embryonic stem cells. The cells are placed on a material that mimics the spinal cord’s outer membrane, known as the dura.

Successful Trials in Animals:

To further validate their approach, the team conducted trials on lambs and bulldog puppies with spina bifida.

In both cases, the application of stem cells resulted in significant improvements. Lambs that received the treatment were able to stand and walk, while bulldog puppies regained mobility and exhibited normal behavior.

The Search for Human Patients:

With the FDA’s approval of the cell safety profile in animal models, the team is now actively searching for the first human patients to undergo this groundbreaking treatment. The hope is to find a baby who can benefit from this potentially life-changing procedure.


The world’s first in utero stem cell treatment for spina bifida performed at UC Davis Children’s Hospital represents a significant milestone in medical history.

Led by Dr. Diana Farmer, the team’s groundbreaking research and successful trials in animals have paved the way for a new approach to treating spina bifida.

With the search for human patients underway, there is hope that this innovative treatment will provide a cure for this debilitating condition.

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