UC Davis Details Clinical Trials to Treat Myelomeningocele In-Utero

UC Davis Health, at the University of California, Davis, has performed several in-utero fetal surgeries on fetuses to treat myelomeningocele, also known as spina bifida.

Jeff Maginnis and Michelle Johnson with their son, Tobias

Jeff Maginnis and Michelle Johnson with their son, Tobias.

In an Oct. 11 news announcement, UC Davis Health provided details on Tobias Maginnis, who was diagnosed with spina bifida at his mother Michelle Johnson’s 20-week ultrasound examination.

After that, Johnson applied for the UC Davis clinical trial originally called, “CuRe Trial: Cellular Therapy for In Utero Repair of Myelomeningocele.” The trial is funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state’s stem cell agency.

Johnson and her partner, Jeff Maginnis, moved from Oregon to Sacramento, Calif., once they were accepted for the trial. Johnson became the second patient enrolled in the trial.

Spina bifida “occurs when spinal tissue fails to fuse properly during the early stages of pregnancy, leading to a range of lifelong cognitive, mobility, urinary and bowel disabilities,” UC Davis noted.

At 25 weeks’ gestation, Johnson underwent the stem cell procedure. During the surgery, stem cells “were placed directly on her fetus’s spinal cord using a special patch to repair the spina bifida defect,” the UC Davis announcement said. Diana Farmer, Professor and Chair of Surgery at UC Davis Health — and the principal investigator on the study — said afterward, “Placement of the fetal patch went off without a hitch, and mother and fetus did great!”

During subsequent ultrasound exams, Johnson said the fetus’s hydrocephalus (fluid accumulated on the brain) was reducing, and she reported seeing the fetus kicking its legs and moving its ankles.

Tobias Magginis was delivered by Caesarean section at 36 weeks, and UC Davis Health, which will continue to monitor his progress, reported no fluid buildup in his brain at birth.

UC Davis Health’s first clinical trial surgery to treat spina bifida was performed in July 2021 on a fetus at nearly 26 weeks of gestation. The surgery was deemed successful, and Robbie was born via Caesarean section at 35 weeks of gestation.

Robbie’s mother, identified only as Emily, said she saw the baby wiggle her toes soon after her birth.

In the October announcement, UC Davis Health said three babies total have been treated in utero, then been born. UC Davis Health said researchers will monitor the children until they reach 30 months of age “to fully assess the procedure’s safety and effectiveness.”

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

Referrals and Prescriptions podcast