pregnantResearchers at the Institute of Child Health have developed a treatment that could prove more effective than folic acid in preventing 'neural tube defects' in newborn children.

Currently women are advised to take folic acid prior to and after conception as it prevents 20-80% of serious birth defects. But the new treatment not only reduces conditions such as spina bifida & anencephaly by 85% but also works on some defects that fail to respond to folic acid.

The treatment, tested on pregnant mice at Great Ormond Street Hospital's research partner, involves supplementing folic acid with nucleotides which help grow crucial cells in the embryo.

Professor of developmental neurology Nicholas Greene said: "We are still in the early stages of this research but we hope that these promising results in mice can eventually be replicated in humans.

Offer expectant mothers a better safeguard
He continued: "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.

"Yet it's important to emphasis that folic acid supplements remain the most effective prevention against neural tube defects currently available. I would strongly urge women to continue taking folic acid in its current form."

Spina bifida and anencephaly affect one in every 1,000 babies in the UK. The ICH researchers believe their findings could pave the way for human trials and ultimately the creation of a single tablet containing folic acid and the new nucleotide compounds.