The tour presentation went exceedingly well with rave reviews—though frankly it’s hard for it not to with Dr. Harrison, the “Father of Fetal Surgery” giving the talk. It was filmed too which is excellent, and I’ll endeavor to link to it once it’s edited and online.
The main point of Dr. Harrison’s talk was how intrinsic fetal diagnosis and therapy is going to be for the future of medicine. Currently, most people think of fetal treatment solely as the surgical treatment of birth defects. However, as neonatal diagnosis improves, we will be able to diagnose more and more childhood diseases before birth. As a result, this opens the door for potentially starting treatment in utero using stem cells, gene therapy, and other minimally invasive treatments. There is research going on right now into treating sickle cell anemia before birth, and there is hope that various autoimmune disorders might be able to be treated this way.
Even more radical is the evidence that many adult diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, may be triggered initially not just by your genes but also by your placental environment. Thus, it may be possible to detect and hopefully prevent some adult diseases through monitoring for adverse in utero conditions or potentially some form of fetal treatment.
The effect of maternal stress on the fetal brain is actually a hot topic in neuroscience. Some studies (1, 2) point towards it being a predictor for depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, learning disabilities, you name it. And other studies (3) indicate that mild to moderate material stress might actually have a beneficial effect on fetal development. Of course, it’s also hard to tease apart the genetic component: does the child have a cortisol sensitivity due to increased cortisal levels in the fetal environment or does the child just have the same stress sensitive genes as the mother?