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Testing a new supplement to prevent spina bifida

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Past Action funding helped discover the importance of taking folic acid before and during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida. New research could help protect even more babies.

Women trying to become pregnant are now routinely advised to take folic acid supplements to prevent spina bifida and the number of cases in the UK has dramatically reduced. These days, it is estimated that just over one baby out of every 1,000 born is affected by spina bifida – 60 years ago it was more than three times higher.

But sadly folic acid doesn’t always work for everybody. Every year 190 babies are born with a neural tube defect. These are severe developmental abnormalities affecting the brain, spine or spinal column. Spina bifida is the most common and can cause wide-ranging symptoms, such as difficulty walking, incontinence and learning difficulties. Affected children usually need several operations and, while most grow up to become adults, their lives are often cut short.

With Action funding of almost £190,000, Professor Nicholas Greene and his team at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health are testing the effects of a vitamin called inositol, which has already shown to have encouraging results. They plan to find out more about how inositol works and how to use it most effectively.

“Our hope is that one day taking inositol will mean fewer parents receiving heart-breaking news about their baby,” says Professor Nicholas Greene.