September 5, 2005

Genes found that may improve knowledge of spina bifida

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish scientists said on Monday they
have discovered two genes linked to spina bifida that will
improve understanding of one of the most common birth defects.

Professor John Scott of Trinity College, Dublin told a
science conference that the genes known as MTHF and CT677
increase the risk of a woman giving birth to a child with the
neural tube defect.

"These genes will illustrate genetic risk in a very
understandable way," Scott told a science conference.

Neural tube disorders occur during the early development of
the fetus. Spina bifida, a defect of the spinal column which
causes nerve damage and paralysis, is the most common of them.

There is no cure for spina bifida but sufferers can be
treated with surgery, medication and physiotherapy.

Women trying to have a baby have been advised to take folic
acid supplements, which have been shown to reduce the risk of
spina bifida by 80 percent, before trying to conceive and
during the early months of pregnancy.

Scott said the genes discovered in his laboratory are
involved in the metabolism of folic acid.

"The answer (to prevent spina bifida) is for women to take
folic acid," said Scott who presented his findings to the
British Association for the Advancement of Science conference.

The United States started fortifying flour with folic acid
several years ago after its role was established in reducing
neural tube birth disorders. Other countries including Canada,
Australia, Mexico and Chile have followed their example.

Scientists have also found that daily supplements of folic
acid, or food fortified with it, can help to prevent heart
disease, stroke, blood clots and cognitive decline.