Supplement could cut spina bifida risk

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A new supplement may help to prevent spina bifida, according to a study by Great Ormond Street Hospital’s Institute of Child Health (ICH).

Women are already urged to take folic acid during the first three months of pregnancy to reduce the neural tube defects (NTDs) that lead to spina bifida. The new supplement includes nucleotides which appear to be able to bypass a genetic “blockage” present in some individuals which prevents them utilising folic acid effectively.

Tests in mice with the new supplement resulted in an 85 per cent drop in the incidence of neural tube defects and scientists hope that a similar effect can eventually be proven in humans.

Official data from the European Surveillance of Congenital Anomalies (Eurocat) shows there were 390 live births in the UK and Ireland of babies with neural tube defects between 2007 and 2011. A further 1,219 pregnancies ended in termination, often in well advanced pregnancies, where the baby was found to have a neural tube defect and possible other complications.

The study has been welcomed by Shine, the charity which represents people with spina bifida. Its CEO, Jackie Bland, said the new research was an exciting development in an area that was a source of incredible distress to parents. “We very much welcome the concept of a single pregnancy supplement in future which contains all the vitamins/chemical constituents proven, through research such as this, to reduce the occurrence of neural tube defects”, she said.

The charity’s advice to women who might conceive continues to be that they should take folic acid at the correct dose. The Department of Health recommends that women take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid (also known as vitamin B9) while trying to conceive and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Awareness Week will take place across England, Wales and Northern Ireland from 21 to 27 October 2013. It will incorporate World Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Day on 23 October.

The November/December issue of SEN Magazine (SEN68) will include an article by Gill Yaz of Shine on coping strategies for children and teachers relating to hydrocephalus and learning.

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