Stem cells and birth defects: Could gastroschisis be treated in utero?

Although Gianna was treated surgically, Dario Fauza, MD, hopes to someday use stem cells from the amniotic fluid, multiplied and returned to the womb, to naturally heal gastroschisis and other birth defects. (Courtesy Danielle DeCarlo)

Six-year-old Gianna DiCarlo is an active dancer and gymnast. Though she’s a healthy eater now, Gianna’s stomach bears a long scar, a remnant of three surgeries she underwent as an infant. She was born with gastroschisis, a striking birth defect in which the abdominal wall doesn’t seal fully during fetal development. As a result, her intestines developed outside her body. She was fed through an IV for several weeks and was stitched fully shut at age 2.

Today, Gianna occasionally dons a two-piece bathing suit to spread awareness about her condition. Meanwhile, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital have isolated stem cells from amniotic fluid, aiming to use them to treat birth defects like gastroschisis.

Read more about Gianna and this research on our sister blog Vector.