Simple supplement discovered for prevention of birth defects

10 Aug 2017By gareth

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SBS World News Radio: Millions of pregnant women worldwide could be spared the trauma of miscarriage and birth defects thanks to a ground-breaking Australian medical discovery.

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Less than 24 hours into celebrations of baby daughter Charlotte's arrival, father Simon Scaife received news of a devastating diagnosis.

"We had a routine visit from a paediatric doctor and they picked up there was an abnormality with her heart."

The organ was double the normal size, with a leaking valve and two holes between the ventricles and the atrium.

Simon Scaife says only last month, two-year-old Charlotte underwent open heart surgery to fix the problems.

"It's a very complex operation so there were significant risks and we were very worried about these and we were never guaranteed a successful outcome."

It's hoped a new breakthrough will go some way to ending such trauma for parents and children.

The answer to preventing birth defects and miscarriages?

Professor Richard Harvey says it's humble vitamin B3 supplements.

"Who would have thought that a simple dietary supplement, such as you find in Vegemite, could be the key to this?"

Researchers from the Victor Chang Institute discovered a major factor in miscarriages and birth defects was a deficiency in a molecule known as NAD.

According to lead researcher, Professor Sally Dunwoodie, the molecule is vital for the normal development of organs.

"We have identified a new cause of birth defects and multiple miscarriages but really importantly have identified a possible preventative, and that's in the form of Niacin, or Vitamin B3."

Up to 15,000 Australian families are affected by miscarriages and birth defects - globally, it's more than ten million.

With the cost of treatment and care running into the billions of dollars, scientists say if they can prevent even a small proportion of cases it would be a major step forward.

Professor David Winlaw, a surgeon at Westmead Children's Hospital in Sydney, says eight of ten cases of congenital heart disease occur with no apparent cause.

"The impact for the population as a whole would mean a very significant reduction in human misery in the early years of life, a vey significant decrease in hospital admissions."

And while Charlotte is well and truly on the mend, the breakthrough has come just a few years late for her mother, Saacha Scaife.

"But I am very excited for future families that they may not have to go through these horrible surgeries, which would be great."

 

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