In a medical first, a 4-month-old fetus doomed to have a disastrously weak immune system was cured by a bone marrow transplant given while it was still in the womb. The baby was born healthy after an otherwise normal pregnancy. At 18 months, he shows no signs of his life-threatening inherited disease, an extremely rare condition known as severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome.
The surgery, described in the Dec. 12 New England Journal of Medicine, was performed in Detroit at Children's Hospital of Michigan by Dr. Alan W. Flake, who is now at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Doctors said the approach is especially noteworthy because it eliminated the disease before it even began. They hope the same technique can be used to head off some other genetic illnesses, including sickle cell anemia.