A Queensland hospital has performed Australian-first spinal surgery on a baby diagnosed with spina bifida while it was still in the womb.

A team from Mater, in collaboration with a team from Vanderbilt University Hospital in the USA, are the first in Australia to have performed in-utero spinal surgery on a baby diagnosed with spina bifida.

Mater’s team, led by Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine Dr Glenn Gardener, performed the surgery on a 24 week-old in-utero baby yesterday.

“The surgery went as well as we could have hoped and both mother and baby are doing well. My sincere thanks go to the Vanderbilt team who have supported and assisted us to complete this surgery in Australia,” Dr Gardener said.

“While this surgery isn’t a cure for spina bifida it does significantly improve the outcomes for babies with spina bifida and I’m delighted we have been able to perform this surgery, saving them the added stress of travelling overseas to access this treatment.”

To ensure the surgery went smoothly, the teams from Vanderbilt and Mater both participated in a simulated surgery rehearsal prior to the actual surgery taking place.

“To be able to simulate the surgery is an amazing opportunity to be able to step through the procedure, find out if there are any issues and to play out different scenarios to ensure that safety for the mother and baby is optimised prior to the actual day of surgery,” Dr Gardener said.

“Ultimately it is our hope that through this partnership between Mater Mothers’ Hospital and the Vanderbilt team, we will be able to provide hope and support for these families in Australia.”

Spina Bifida is a condition where the lower part of a baby’s spine is open and it affects 1 in 2000 pregnancies in Australia. Currently families often discover the diagnosis of spina bifida at their 18 to 20 week ultrasound scan and to date, Australian parents have had to wait until the baby is born to perform surgery.

Modern medicine never ceases to amaze me. This is so fantastic.

Share your comments below.

Image via Mater Mothers

  • It may not be a cure but hopefully the quality of life for the baby will be considerably improved. Many can never sit up unassisted. Living in Vic. I know, a man now in his 40s who when he was born baby his parents were told that he would never crawl, walk, talk or anything, to put him in a home and forget about him. No way were they going to do that. With extensive physio over a few years he has achieved his goals. He goes have slightly weak muscles, has played State soccer in a disabled team and is a fantastic cyclist. A very fit friend of his started taking him riding with him as he wanted to achieve that too. Before long his friend had to ride really fast to keep up with him. He now rides in a state level cycledrome. He runs his own takeaway food shop and is doing very well with it too.


  • Great news, though it would have been nice to know the point of the surgery – i.e., what they were hoping to prevent/achieve from doing the surgery so early.


  • Wow, this is so amazing


  • Fantastic, but let’s not forget how traumatic it must have been for the mother.


  • Oh! This is so amazing! What a wonderful operation!!


  • An amazing story,wishing the mother and baby all the best for the future.


  • The leaps and bounds that medical science is making is amazing.


  • It’s incredible what they can do now. I think it would be incredibly scary for a mother to have the surgery performed on her unborn baby though.


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