New treatment to compliment folic acid in the prevention of neural tube defects

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 in early pregnancy. 

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

A new study published 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. Researchers at the ICH, our research partner, 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.

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. 

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.

Nicholas Greene, Professor of Developmental Neurobiology at the ICH