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 on Friday 9 August in the journal Brain shows that
the new treatment, when tested in mice, reduced the incidence of neural
tube defects (NTDs) by 85 per cent. This new approach was also
successful in preventing some kinds of NTDs that are currently
unresponsive to folic acid.
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 pregnancy it is blocked from having the desired effect on the embryo.
The new treatment being tested at the ICH involves supplementing with
'nucleotides', 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
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."
Prof 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."
Great Ormond Street Hospital. "New
treatment may work with folic acid to boost prevention of neural tube
defects like spina bifida." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 13 Aug. 2013. Web.
19 Aug. 2013. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/264710.php>