September 10, 2002
by Helen Chickering
Doctors are testing a hi-tech approach to perform surgery in the womb. The technique uses lasers to treat a potentially deadly circulation disorder that affects some identical twins.
Identical twins share a lot. In the womb, they may share blood vessels, which is normal, but in rare cases it can be dangerous-- even deadly.
Twin-twin syndrome happens when only one twin gets the blood from a shared blood vessel, which can lead to low levels of amniotic fluid, lung heart and kidney problems. Removing excess amniotic fluid from the recipient twin can help, but doesn't fix the problem.
Now researchers are testing laser therapy to restore normal blood flow. Surgeons blast the vessels with a very powerful and precise beam of light to separate the problem vessel, balancing the blood flow between the two fetuses, and reducing the risk of complications.
Several centers around the country already perform the procedure. The five-year study will determine if the hi-tech approach should be the new standard of care.
Severe twin-twin transfusion syndrome occurs in one to two percent of identical twins. The laser therapy under study is performed under local anesthesia as an outpatient procedure. The National Institutes of Health are funding the study.
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