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J Laparoendosc Surg. 1996 Mar;6 Suppl 1:S65-7.

Percutaneous access to the uterus for fetal surgery.

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Fetal Treatment Center, Department of Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, USA.


In utero repair of selected life-threatening malformations in the human fetus is now a clinical reality, yet fetal surgery continues to pose significant risks to both the mother and the unborn child. Preterm labor is a major problem directly related to the large uterine incision required for fetal exposure. Using technology developed for laparoscopic surgery, we have devised instruments and techniques to perform fetal endoscopic surgery. We now report a percutaneous technique for direct endoscopic access to the uterus. Minimally invasive fetoscopic surgery may expand the indications for fetal surgery by decreasing fetal risks, facilitating intervention earlier in gestation, and reducing preterm labor. This technique was developed in 4 fetal lambs who underwent endoscopic intervention at 105-110 days gestation (term = 145 days). Under ultrasound guidance, a 20-gauge spinal needle was advanced through the maternal abdomen, uterus, and directly into the amniotic cavity. Warmed saline was infused through the needle to expand the amniotic cavity. Next, a 5-mm balloon-tipped trocar was placed percutaneously with ultrasound guidance into the amniotic cavity. A 5-mm laparoscope was introduced and under endoamniotic vision two more 5-mm trocars were percutaneously placed. In all four sheep a 5-mm trocar was placed percutaneously into the gravid uterus. The most difficult step was puncturing through the amniotic membranes, but the sharp tip of the trocar facilitated getting into the amniotic cavity. Excellent visualization of the fetus was obtained with minimal uterine trauma. We have developed a fetoscopic technique in sheep for percutaneous placement of trocars into the uterus using ultrasound guidance. This approach allowed excellent visualization of the fetus with significantly less uterine trauma than open fetal surgery and is an essential prerequisite for future fetal endoscopic interventions.

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