Having a healthy baby is every expectant mother’s desire, on the other hand having a child with any type of health issue is her greatest fear. Congenital disorders, or congenital anomalies, range from ones that are barely noticeable to ones that prevent life from continuing and this problem is found globally.
Of course, there is a wide range between slight and life threatening. Some need no treatment while others will be classified as a disability and these have a variety of possible origins.
A person’s lifelong health begins long before birth, even before conception. A condition that a person is born with could have been caused by inherited genes or chromosomes. Other factors affecting a person while in the womb include environmental and nutritional, down to the micronutrients level.
While congenital disorders are a global problem, in some countries simply having health care available to more people would make a difference in the amount of cases. They are the number one reason for infant death in the world, especially in low and middle-income countries.
Something as simple as the mother consuming adequate amounts of folic acid can prevent disorders such as spina bifida. Other structural disorders show up as a cleft palate or heart defects. Babies with congenital disorders could be born early with low birth weight and they could have chronic conditions such as asthma, obesity, or diabetes.
A functional disorder is another type of congenital disorder and is linked with a body system or part. It is known to affect sensory abilities, such as hearing or sight. Functional disorders may affect the nervous system, brain, and has been associated with a condition called hypoparathyroidism.
On the horizon there is medical technology that is breaking ground in using the patient’s own cells, manipulated in a lab, to treat a condition where nothing else has worked. It is very personal, in that each patient’s prescription is crafted from their cells. In fact, the practice of creating a drug from the patient’s cell has become known as “personalized medicine.”
The unique aspect of this practice is that the prescription is created one person at a time. This can be done anywhere from a hospital to a doctor’s office because the tools needed to create this personalized prescription are cheap, compact, and small enough.
In February 2014 a federal appellate court upheld the FDA position “that a patient’s cells become a drug when extracted and manipulated in a laboratory, and may be not used to treat the patient without FDA approval.” More clarity is needed regarding a drug designed specifically for one patient and how the agency might approve each case or if there could be a blanket approval at some point in the future.The discussion continues as to what is a drug defined by law and requires FDA approval and what is considered practicing medicine.
This new “personalized medicine” offers hope for some congenital disorders at some time in the future. While the debate carries on they wait and still there are others who will not be helped by it. The very basics of good health for all parents and good health care for all mothers-to-be are key components in attempting to prevent the problem of congenital disorders globally.
By Ailey Hines
Photo by Hu O’Reilly – Flickr License