Touching Lives - April 2014
Protecting identical twins
Up to 15 per cent of identical twins develop a serious condition in the womb called twin-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS). It can be extremely dangerous, causing premature birth, disability and sadly even death.
Action funding is allowing doctors to investigate if a powerful form of ultrasound could be used to more safely treat babies while they are still in the womb.
The syndrome occurs when connections develop between blood vessels in the shared placenta of identical twins. This results in unequal sharing of blood between the two babies –one can become perilously short and the other dangerously overloaded. Left untreated up to 90 per cent of babies with the severest form of the condition will die.
Mothers whose babies are affected may currently be offered laser therapy. This can boost the twins’ chances of survival but involves invasive surgery that can cause miscarriage, premature birth or infection.
The idea of the new treatment, called high-intensity focused ultrasound, is – like laser therapy – to stop blood moving between the two babies by blocking vessels in the shared placenta. But since ultrasound is non-invasive the team believe it could cause fewer complications.
Lead researcher Dr Christoph Lees, from the Department of Fetal Medicine at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, says: “This could mean more babies could be treated earlier in pregnancy, hopefully improving their chances of surviving and escaping disability.”