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Fetal myelomeningocele repair: a narrative review of the history, current controversies and future directions

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Fetal surgery is a relatively new field of medicine. The purpose of this narrative review is to present the history of how fetal surgery became the standard of care for myelomeningocele (MMC), the current controversies of this treatment, and active areas of research that may change how MMC is treated. Fetal surgery for MMC emerged out of the University of California, San Francisco in the 1980s in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Harrison. Initial research focused on testing the hypothesis that the in utero repair of MMC could improve outcomes in the ovine model. Evidence from this model suggested that in utero repair decreases the secondary damage to the exposed neural tissue and improves post-natal neurologic outcomes, opening the door for human intervention. This was followed by the Management of Myelomeningocele Study (MOMS), which was a multicenter randomized controlled trial comparing the prenatal versus postnatal MMC repair. The MOMS trial was stopped early due to the improved outcomes of the prenatal repair, establishing the open fetal MMC repair as the standard of care. Since the MOMS trial, two primary areas of controversy have arisen: the operative approach and criteria for the repair. The three operative approaches include open, endoscopic and a hybrid approach combining open and endoscopic. Several of the inclusion and exclusion criteria from the MOMS trial have been challenged, to include body mass index, gestational diabetes, other fetal abnormalities, maternal infections and Rh alloimmunization. New areas of research have also emerged, exploring cell based therapies to improve fetal outcomes, alternatives to fetal surgery and alternatives to primary skin closure of the fetus.

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