Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, in collaboration with Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine, have been awarded a five-year, $8.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to further illuminate the causes of spina bifida, the most common structural defect of the central nervous system.
Spina bifida occurs when the developing spine and spinal cord do not form properly. It’s a defect of the neural tube, the structure in developing embryos that eventually becomes the baby’s brain, spinal cord and surrounding tissues.
In spina bifida, a portion of the neural tube doesn’t close and the backbone protecting the spinal cord doesn’t form correctly, often resulting in damage to the cord and nerves that leads to physical and neurological disabilities, including paralysis from the waist down and hydrocephalus or excessive fluid buildup inside the brain.
The condition is relatively rare, occurring in approximately one in 3,000 births worldwide. Treatment depends upon the severity of the condition, often involving surgeries before and after birth.
The exact cause of spina bifida is not known. It likely involves multiple factors: genetic, nutritional and environmental. Previous research has established that folic acid, known as vitamin B9, can halve the risk of spina bifida when taken by women prior to conception of a child. As a result, folic acid is a common nutritional supplement in grain-based foods in the United States and other countries.…