New treatment may work with folic acid to prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida

August 13, 2013
New treatment may work with folic acid to prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida

Researchers at the UCL Institute of Child Health (ICH) are investigating a new treatment that could work alongside folic acid to boost its effectiveness and prevent a greater proportion of neural tube defects – such as spina bifida – in early pregnancy.

A new study published in the journal Brain shows that the new treatment, when tested in mice, reduced the incidence of (NTDs) by 85 per cent. This new approach was also successful in preventing some kinds of NTDs that are currently unresponsive to folic .

Researchers at the ICH, which is the research partner of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust, believe the findings could make way for future trials in patients, to investigate whether the same level of prevention can be achieved for human NTDs.

NTDs such as spina bifida and anencephaly are still among the most common worldwide, affecting about 1 in 1,000 pregnancies with much higher rates in some countries.

Folic acid supplements taken in the very early stages of human pregnancy, when an embryo's is still developing, currently prevent a proportion of NTDs (20-80 per cent depending on geographic region). Folic acid works by helping the embryo's to close normally, which is an essential step of development (failure of this process results in NTDs). However, a significant number of NTDs are unresponsive to folic acid supplements.

One reason why folic acid might not always be effective is that a 'genetic blockage' can occur in the way folic acid is handled, or metabolised, in cells. In such cases, even if folic acid is taken early in it is blocked from having the desired effect on the embryo. The new treatment being tested at the ICH involves supplementing with '', which are needed to make DNA as cells divide in the growing embryo. Nucleotides can bypass the blockage in the way folic acid is handled, ensuring the growth of crucial cells in the embryo.

NTDs are likely to have many possible causes and the ICH team considers that the most effective way to reduce the risk of NTDs is to use a combination of different treatments. In previous studies they found that a particular vitamin, inositol, has a protective effect and this is being tested in a clinical trial.

Similar studies are now proposed for the 'nucleotide' treatment, and researchers envisage that a single tablet could eventually be developed for women planning a baby, which would contain folic acid and the new protective compounds.

Commenting on the new research, Nicholas Greene, Professor of Developmental Neurobiology at the ICH, said: "We are still in the early stages of this research, but we hope that these promising results in mice can eventually be replicated with human NTDs. If it is found to be effective, this nucleotide treatment could boost the effects of folic acid and offer expectant mothers an even more reliable safeguard against relatively common defects like spina bifida."

Professor Greene added: "While we continue our research into this new treatment, it's important to emphasise that folic acid supplements remain the most effective prevention against NTDs currently available for women who are planning a baby. While we are greatly encouraged by these new findings, I would strongly urge women to continue taking folic acid in its current form until we reach a point where additional supplements might become available."

Explore further: Lack of key enzyme in the metabolism of folic acid leads to birth defects

Related Stories

Lack of key enzyme in the metabolism of folic acid leads to birth defects

January 17, 2013
Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have discovered that the lack of a critical enzyme in the folic acid metabolic pathway leads to neural tube birth defects in developing embryos.

Fortifying corn masa flour with folic acid could prevent birth defects, March of Dimes says

June 16, 2011
Fortifying corn masa flour with the B vitamin folic acid could prevent more serious birth defects of the brain and spine in the Hispanic community, according to a March of Dimes commentary published in the American Journal ...

Folic acid lowers risk of autism, study finds

March 11, 2013
Women who take a vitamin B9 supplement (folic acid) during the beginning weeks of their pregnancy can cut the risk of having a child with autism in half. But the supplement has no effect if it is started more than 8 weeks ...

Mouse experiments show fickle functions for folic acid

October 6, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Dietary folic acid helps prevent a subset of neurological birth defects in humans -- although the precise mechanism by which it prevents them is unclear. Now, researchers have found that certain genetic ...

Recommended for you

The neural codes for body movements

July 21, 2017
A small patch of neurons in the brain can encode the movements of many body parts, according to researchers in the laboratory of Caltech's Richard Andersen, James G. Boswell Professor of Neuroscience, Tianqiao and Chrissy ...

Faulty support cells disrupt communication in brains of people with schizophrenia

July 20, 2017
New research has identified the culprit behind the wiring problems in the brains of people with schizophrenia. When researchers transplanted human brain cells generated from individuals diagnosed with childhood-onset schizophrenia ...

Scientists reveal how patterns of brain activity direct specific body movements

July 20, 2017
New research by Columbia scientists offers fresh insight into how the brain tells the body to move, from simple behaviors like walking, to trained movements that may take years to master. The discovery in mice advances knowledge ...

Scientists discover combined sensory map for heat, humidity in fly brain

July 20, 2017
Northwestern University neuroscientists now can visualize how fruit flies sense and process humidity and temperature together through a "sensory map" within their brains, according to new research.

Team traces masculinization in mice to estrogen receptor in inhibitory neurons

July 20, 2017
Researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have opened a black box in the brain whose contents explain one of the remarkable yet mysterious facts of life.

Speech language therapy delivered through the Internet leads to similar improvements as in-person treatment

July 20, 2017
Telerehabilitation helps healthcare professionals reach more patients in need, but some worry it doesn't offer the same quality of care as in-person treatment. This isn't the case, according to recent research by Baycrest.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.