Source: Healthcanal / Image: Dr. Diana Farmer and UC Davis team

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) – The lower-limb paralysis associated with spina bifida may be effectively treated before birth by combining a unique stem cell therapy with surgery, new research from UC Davis Health System has found.

Diana Farmer (front), a pioneer in fetal surgery, and her research team are testing placental stem cells as a treatment for the paralysis associated with spina bifida.

The study, conducted in an animal model, was led by Diana Farmer, the fetal surgeon who helped pioneer in uterotreatment for spina bifida — a congenital birth defect that occurs when the spinal cord does not close properly, leading to lifelong cognitive, urological, musculoskeletal and motor disabilities. Farmer’s chief collaborator was Aijun Wang, co-director of the UC Davis Surgical Bioengineering Laboratory.

“Prenatal surgery revolutionized spina bifida treatment by improving brain development, but it didn’t benefit motor function as much as we hoped,” said Farmer, chair of the UC Davis Department of Surgery and senior author of the study, published online today inStem Cells Translational Medicine.

“We now think that when it’s augmented with stem cells, fetal surgery could actually be a cure,” said Wang.

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