Mater undertakes Australian first in-utero spinal surgery

Mater undertakes Australian first in-utero spinal surgery

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, a team from Mater—in collaboration with a team from Vanderbilt University Hospital in the USA—are the first in Australia to have performed in-utero spinal surgery on a baby diagnosed with spina bifida at Mater Mothers' Hospital.

Last Saturday (23 July), Mater’s team, led by Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine Dr Glenn Gardener, performed the life-changing surgery on a 24 week-old in-utero baby at Mater Mothers' Hospital.

If you missed it, you can watch it now by clicking below.


Spina bifida is a condition where the lower part of a baby’s spine is open and it affects 1 in 2000 pregnancies in Australia.

Currently, families often discover the diagnosis of spina bifida at their 18 to 20 week ultrasound scan and, to date, Australian parents have had to wait until the baby is born to perform this life-changing surgery.

But a seven year trial in the US (MOMS study) demonstrated clear benefits for babies who undergo prenatal in-utero surgery to treat spina bifida when compared to surgery after the baby is born. Prenatal surgery for spina bifida was first pioneered by a team at Vanderbilt University Hospital in the USA in 1997.

And now it’s come to Australia.

“The surgery went as well as we could have hoped and both mother and baby are doing well,” Dr Gardener said.

“While this surgery isn’t a cure for spina bifida it does significantly improve the outcomes for babies with spina bifida and I’m delighted we have been able to perform this surgery, saving them the added stress of travelling overseas to access this treatment.”

To ensure the surgery went smoothly, the teams from Vanderbilt in the USA and Mater both participated in a simulated surgery rehearsal prior to the actual surgery taking place.

“To be able to simulate the surgery is an amazing opportunity. It enables us to step through the procedure, find out if there are any issues and to play out different scenarios to ensure that safety for the mother and baby is optimised prior to the actual day of surgery,” Dr Gardener said.

“Ultimately it is our hope that through this partnership between Mater Mothers’ Hospital and the Vanderbilt team, we will be able to provide hope and support for these families in Australia.”

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