Tag Archives: body

Scientists a step closer to mimicking way human body creates sperm

Scientists have come a step closer to mimicking the natural process by which the body creates sperm from stem cells in work that could ultimately provide new treatments for infertility.

Speaking at the Progress Educational Trust annual conference in London this month, Azim Surani, director of germline and epigenetics research at the University of Cambridge’s Gurdon Institute, said he and colleagues had passed a significant milestone on the path to producing sperm in the laboratory. The team is thought to be the first to have reached the halfway point on the developmental path from human stem cells to immature sperm.

The study hints that one day it may be possible to manufacture sperm and eggs from stem cells or even adult skin cells.

Previously, scientists have used stem cells to create viable mouse sperm, that were then used to produce healthy pups. Other teams have also injected immature human germ cells into the testicles of mice to produce cells that superficially looked like sperm, but which did not have the ability to fertilise eggs.

“We can’t be absolutely sure that they are really sperm-like cells,” said Surani. “There are developmental timers in cells and so you have to let them develop according to their internal timing.”

There are particular safety concerns around the use of artificially created sperm and eggs, because any genetic flaws would be potentially passed on to all future generations.

Surani’s team is attempting to tightly track the lengthy developmental pathway that happens in the body as embryonic cells morph into immature sperm through a series of complex steps known as meiosis. During the first few weeks, cells destined to become sperm and eggs follow the same route, with the trajectories diverging at around eight weeks. In mice this happens after just 13 days.

“The challenge is that the timelines are very long in humans,” said Surani.

In a recent study, his team showed they could reach roughly the four week mark, but they are aiming to extend this to the crucial eight week milestone when sperm and eggs become distinct.

With this goal in mind, the team has developed miniature artificial testicles, called gonadal organoids, which comprise a blob of gonadal cells (also grown in the lab) suspended in gel. The mixture of cell types seems to be providing some of the right biochemical cues to propel the cells further down the path to becoming sperm.

The DNA in germ cells has to undergo a process known as “erasure” – the stripping away of chemical marks that were laid down on parental DNA through exposure to the environment. Most of these so-called epigenetic markers are wiped clean shortly after an egg is fertilised, limiting the degree to which the life experience of parents can influence the biology of their children. However, a second, more thorough, resetting occurs as the embryonic stem cells develop into eggs or sperm.

Surani’s recent study, which has been submitted to a journal for publication, demonstrated that the cells were undergoing this process in the dish.

“This process of erasure is much more comprehensive and global; you don’t see it anywhere else,” said Surani. “We’re starting to see that erasure process.”

Ensuring that lab-grown sperm and eggs replicate the subtleties of those produced in the body will be essential if they are to be used in clinical applications in the future, and could also offer clues as to what causes infertility in the first place.

“If this was ever going to be used in a clinical setting we have to be sure that it has gone through all the right stages – all of these steps are incredibly important,” said Surani. “You can make an egg that looks like an egg, but it might not be the right cell in molecular detail. You could get a lot of problems with that. You don’t want something that’s going to grow into some kind of abnormal structure.”

Allan Pacey, professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield, who was not involved in the work, agreed that replicating the precise genetic activity in a normal sperm would be the priority for any future clinical applications. “I’m trying to get away from the notion that it’s something that looks like a sperm, because that’s just the vehicle,” he said. “It’s about what’s in the head and the quality of the DNA. What it looks like is somewhat immaterial.”

Fertility clinics in Britain are currently banned from using artificial sperm or eggs to treat infertile couples. However, if scientists perfected the ability to produce germ cells in the lab – something Surani predicts is at least a decade away – regulators could face pressure to revise the law to reflect the new possibilities. For instance, two men could potentially have a baby that was genetically related to both of them by using skin cells from one to make an egg and cells from the other to make the sperm. Women with fertility problems could have eggs grown in the lab, rather than taking drugs to stimulate their ovaries.

Helen O’Neill, who directs the reproductive science and women’s health programme at UCL, said clinical applications were not on the immediate horizon. “Much of the ambition to recreate reproductive processes in the lab is to further our understanding of these processes,” she said. “It is surprising how little we understand about the fundamental dynamics of the beginnings of life.”

Scientists a step closer to mimicking way human body creates sperm

Scientists have come a step closer to mimicking the natural process by which the body creates sperm from stem cells in work that could ultimately provide new treatments for infertility.

Speaking at the Progress Educational Trust annual conference in London this month, Azim Surani, director of germline and epigenetics research at the University of Cambridge’s Gurdon Institute, said he and colleagues had passed a significant milestone on the path to producing sperm in the laboratory. The team is thought to be the first to have reached the halfway point on the developmental path from human stem cells to immature sperm.

The study hints that one day it may be possible to manufacture sperm and eggs from stem cells or even adult skin cells.

Previously, scientists have used stem cells to create viable mouse sperm, that were then used to produce healthy pups. Other teams have also injected immature human germ cells into the testicles of mice to produce cells that superficially looked like sperm, but which did not have the ability to fertilise eggs.

“We can’t be absolutely sure that they are really sperm-like cells,” said Surani. “There are developmental timers in cells and so you have to let them develop according to their internal timing.”

There are particular safety concerns around the use of artificially created sperm and eggs, because any genetic flaws would be potentially passed on to all future generations.

Surani’s team is attempting to tightly track the lengthy developmental pathway that happens in the body as embryonic cells morph into immature sperm through a series of complex steps known as meiosis. During the first few weeks, cells destined to become sperm and eggs follow the same route, with the trajectories diverging at around eight weeks. In mice this happens after just 13 days.

“The challenge is that the timelines are very long in humans,” said Surani.

In a recent study, his team showed they could reach roughly the four week mark, but they are aiming to extend this to the crucial eight week milestone when sperm and eggs become distinct.

With this goal in mind, the team has developed miniature artificial testicles, called gonadal organoids, which comprise a blob of gonadal cells (also grown in the lab) suspended in gel. The mixture of cell types seems to be providing some of the right biochemical cues to propel the cells further down the path to becoming sperm.

The DNA in germ cells has to undergo a process known as “erasure” – the stripping away of chemical marks that were laid down on parental DNA through exposure to the environment. Most of these so-called epigenetic markers are wiped clean shortly after an egg is fertilised, limiting the degree to which the life experience of parents can influence the biology of their children. However, a second, more thorough, resetting occurs as the embryonic stem cells develop into eggs or sperm.

Surani’s recent study, which has been submitted to a journal for publication, demonstrated that the cells were undergoing this process in the dish.

“This process of erasure is much more comprehensive and global; you don’t see it anywhere else,” said Surani. “We’re starting to see that erasure process.”

Ensuring that lab-grown sperm and eggs replicate the subtleties of those produced in the body will be essential if they are to be used in clinical applications in the future, and could also offer clues as to what causes infertility in the first place.

“If this was ever going to be used in a clinical setting we have to be sure that it has gone through all the right stages – all of these steps are incredibly important,” said Surani. “You can make an egg that looks like an egg, but it might not be the right cell in molecular detail. You could get a lot of problems with that. You don’t want something that’s going to grow into some kind of abnormal structure.”

Allan Pacey, professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield, who was not involved in the work, agreed that replicating the precise genetic activity in a normal sperm would be the priority for any future clinical applications. “I’m trying to get away from the notion that it’s something that looks like a sperm, because that’s just the vehicle,” he said. “It’s about what’s in the head and the quality of the DNA. What it looks like is somewhat immaterial.”

Fertility clinics in Britain are currently banned from using artificial sperm or eggs to treat infertile couples. However, if scientists perfected the ability to produce germ cells in the lab – something Surani predicts is at least a decade away – regulators could face pressure to revise the law to reflect the new possibilities. For instance, two men could potentially have a baby that was genetically related to both of them by using skin cells from one to make an egg and cells from the other to make the sperm. Women with fertility problems could have eggs grown in the lab, rather than taking drugs to stimulate their ovaries.

Helen O’Neill, who directs the reproductive science and women’s health programme at UCL, said clinical applications were not on the immediate horizon. “Much of the ambition to recreate reproductive processes in the lab is to further our understanding of these processes,” she said. “It is surprising how little we understand about the fundamental dynamics of the beginnings of life.”

Scientists a step closer to mimicking way human body creates sperm

Scientists have come a step closer to mimicking the natural process by which the body creates sperm from stem cells in work that could ultimately provide new treatments for infertility.

Speaking at the Progress Educational Trust annual conference in London this month, Azim Surani, director of germline and epigenetics research at the University of Cambridge’s Gurdon Institute, said he and colleagues had passed a significant milestone on the path to producing sperm in the laboratory. The team is thought to be the first to have reached the halfway point on the developmental path from human stem cells to immature sperm.

The study hints that one day it may be possible to manufacture sperm and eggs from stem cells or even adult skin cells.

Previously, scientists have used stem cells to create viable mouse sperm, that were then used to produce healthy pups. Other teams have also injected immature human germ cells into the testicles of mice to produce cells that superficially looked like sperm, but which did not have the ability to fertilise eggs.

“We can’t be absolutely sure that they are really sperm-like cells,” said Surani. “There are developmental timers in cells and so you have to let them develop according to their internal timing.”

There are particular safety concerns around the use of artificially created sperm and eggs, because any genetic flaws would be potentially passed on to all future generations.

Surani’s team is attempting to tightly track the lengthy developmental pathway that happens in the body as embryonic cells morph into immature sperm through a series of complex steps known as meiosis. During the first few weeks, cells destined to become sperm and eggs follow the same route, with the trajectories diverging at around eight weeks. In mice this happens after just 13 days.

“The challenge is that the timelines are very long in humans,” said Surani.

In a recent study, his team showed they could reach roughly the four week mark, but they are aiming to extend this to the crucial eight week milestone when sperm and eggs become distinct.

With this goal in mind, the team has developed miniature artificial testicles, called gonadal organoids, which comprise a blob of gonadal cells (also grown in the lab) suspended in gel. The mixture of cell types seems to be providing some of the right biochemical cues to propel the cells further down the path to becoming sperm.

The DNA in germ cells has to undergo a process known as “erasure” – the stripping away of chemical marks that were laid down on parental DNA through exposure to the environment. Most of these so-called epigenetic markers are wiped clean shortly after an egg is fertilised, limiting the degree to which the life experience of parents can influence the biology of their children. However, a second, more thorough, resetting occurs as the embryonic stem cells develop into eggs or sperm.

Surani’s recent study, which has been submitted to a journal for publication, demonstrated that the cells were undergoing this process in the dish.

“This process of erasure is much more comprehensive and global; you don’t see it anywhere else,” said Surani. “We’re starting to see that erasure process.”

Ensuring that lab-grown sperm and eggs replicate the subtleties of those produced in the body will be essential if they are to be used in clinical applications in the future, and could also offer clues as to what causes infertility in the first place.

“If this was ever going to be used in a clinical setting we have to be sure that it has gone through all the right stages – all of these steps are incredibly important,” said Surani. “You can make an egg that looks like an egg, but it might not be the right cell in molecular detail. You could get a lot of problems with that. You don’t want something that’s going to grow into some kind of abnormal structure.”

Allan Pacey, professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield, who was not involved in the work, agreed that replicating the precise genetic activity in a normal sperm would be the priority for any future clinical applications. “I’m trying to get away from the notion that it’s something that looks like a sperm, because that’s just the vehicle,” he said. “It’s about what’s in the head and the quality of the DNA. What it looks like is somewhat immaterial.”

Fertility clinics in Britain are currently banned from using artificial sperm or eggs to treat infertile couples. However, if scientists perfected the ability to produce germ cells in the lab – something Surani predicts is at least a decade away – regulators could face pressure to revise the law to reflect the new possibilities. For instance, two men could potentially have a baby that was genetically related to both of them by using skin cells from one to make an egg and cells from the other to make the sperm. Women with fertility problems could have eggs grown in the lab, rather than taking drugs to stimulate their ovaries.

Helen O’Neill, who directs the reproductive science and women’s health programme at UCL, said clinical applications were not on the immediate horizon. “Much of the ambition to recreate reproductive processes in the lab is to further our understanding of these processes,” she said. “It is surprising how little we understand about the fundamental dynamics of the beginnings of life.”

Baby girl survives after being born with heart outside her body, in UK first

A baby girl born with her heart outside her body is believed to be the first in the UK to survive with the extremely rare condition after undergoing three operations, the first within an hour of her birth.

At a nine-week scan, Vanellope Hope Wilkins was discovered to have the condition ectopia cordis, with her heart and part of her stomach growing externally.

Her parents, Naomi Findlay, 31, and Dean Wilkins, 43, of Bulwell, Nottinghamshire, were advised “termination” was the only option, they said.

But three weeks after her premature birth, by caesarean section on 22 November, Vanellope, who is named after a Disney princess, has survived three operations at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester, to move her heart back inside her chest.

Experts, including the consultant cardiologist, have said they do not know of another case in the UK where a baby has survived such a condition.

Describing their emotions on first being told of her chances, Findlay said: “I burst into tears. When we did the research, we just couldn’t physically look because the condition came with so many problems.”

Wilkins said: “We still didn’t know what we were looking at when we saw the scan, it looked like a little hamster with a hat on.”

They decided against termination, preferring to leave it to nature, and worried throughout the whole pregnancy.

Vanellope Wilkins undergoes corrective surgery, in what is believed to be a UK first, at Glenfield Hospital.


Vanellope Wilkins undergoes corrective surgery, in what is believed to be a UK first, at Glenfield Hospital. Photograph: University Hospitals of Leiceste/PA

The couple said they were told the first 10 minutes after birth were crucial as her ability to breathe would be essential. “But when she came out and she came out crying, that was it. The relief fell out of me,” said her mother. Her father said: “Twenty minutes went by and she was still shouting her head off – it made us so joyful and teary.”

Vanellope has undergone three operations carried out by a team of 50 staff at Glenfield Hospital. Immediately after her birth, she was wrapped in a sterile plastic bag. Consultant neonatologist Jonathan Cusack said: “At around 50 minutes of age, it was felt that Vanellope was stable enough to be transferred back to the main theatre, where she had been born, to the waiting anaesthetists, congenital heart disease and paediatric surgical teams who began the task of putting her entire heart back inside her chest.”

She was transferred to the paediatric intensive care unit where she was due to stay for at least several weeks while she got strong enough and big enough for her heart to be placed fully within her chest and covered with her skin.

After seven days, her chest was opened a bit more to create space to allow her heart to fit back in. In the average baby, there is an indent on the left lung which leaves space for the heart, but she did not have this. Over two weeks, her heart naturally made its way back into her chest as a result of gravity.


I felt guilty for thinking negative thoughts because here she is fighting. I’m glad I stuck to my guns not to terminate.

Naomi Findlay, Vanellope’s mother

The latest operation involved taking skin from under her arms and moving it to join in the middle of her body. Surgeons had created a mesh that protected her heart as she did not have ribs or a sternum. As her organs fight for space inside her chest, she is still attached to a ventilation machine.

Babies born with the condition – one estimate is five to eight per million – have less than a 10% chance of survival.

Branko Mimic, the lead surgeon at the East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre, said: “Cases such as Vanellope’s, where everything else appears essentially normal, are even rarer, and whilst it would seem more hopeful she will do well, it is therefore almost impossible to be confident of this.”

Frances Bu’Lock, a consultant paediatric cardiologist at Glenfield Hospital, said she had described the chances of the baby surviving as remote. “I had seen one in foetal life around 20 years ago but that pregnancy was ended.”

Findlay said all the way through her pregnancy that she was warned the “chances of survival are next to nothing”. After the birth, she said, “I felt guilty for thinking negative thoughts because here she is fighting, and there was I, about to give up. I’m glad I stuck to my guns not to terminate though, I’m so glad.”

Wilkins said: “I lost hope a few times, if she didn’t move I’d say: ‘Has she moved today?’ and then, the next thing, she’d suddenly move and you’d go: ‘Oh she’s heard me’.”

They named their daughter after a character in the film Wreck-it Ralph. “Vanellope in the film is so stubborn and she turns into a princess at the end, so it was so fitting. The Hope part of her name is the fact that she has brought us hope, and my mum and dad, because even they, as grandparents, thought they would never get to see their granddaughter,” said Findlay.

Wilkins said: “Some mums still terminate and if we can get out there that there is a hope, and that it can be done, then it’s giving all those mums out there a chance.” His daughter’s name was a reminder, he said, “that there is that hope”.

Baby girl survives after being born with heart outside her body, in UK first

A baby girl born with her heart outside her body is believed to be the first in the UK to survive with the extremely rare condition after undergoing three operations, the first within an hour of her birth.

At a nine-week scan, Vanellope Hope Wilkins was discovered to have the condition ectopia cordis, with her heart and part of her stomach growing externally.

Her parents, Naomi Findlay, 31, and Dean Wilkins, 43, of Bulwell, Nottinghamshire, were advised “termination” was the only option, they said.

But three weeks after her premature birth, by caesarean section on 22 November, Vanellope, who is named after a Disney princess, has survived three operations at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester, to move her heart back inside her chest.

Experts, including the consultant cardiologist, have said they do not know of another case in the UK where a baby has survived such a condition.

Describing their emotions on first being told of her chances, Findlay said: “I burst into tears. When we did the research, we just couldn’t physically look because the condition came with so many problems.”

Wilkins said: “We still didn’t know what we were looking at when we saw the scan, it looked like a little hamster with a hat on.”

They decided against termination, preferring to leave it to nature, and worried throughout the whole pregnancy.

Vanellope Wilkins undergoes corrective surgery, in what is believed to be a UK first, at Glenfield Hospital.


Vanellope Wilkins undergoes corrective surgery, in what is believed to be a UK first, at Glenfield Hospital. Photograph: University Hospitals of Leiceste/PA

The couple said they were told the first 10 minutes after birth were crucial as her ability to breathe would be essential. “But when she came out and she came out crying, that was it. The relief fell out of me,” said her mother. Her father said: “Twenty minutes went by and she was still shouting her head off – it made us so joyful and teary.”

Vanellope has undergone three operations carried out by a team of 50 staff at Glenfield Hospital. Immediately after her birth, she was wrapped in a sterile plastic bag. Consultant neonatologist Jonathan Cusack said: “At around 50 minutes of age, it was felt that Vanellope was stable enough to be transferred back to the main theatre, where she had been born, to the waiting anaesthetists, congenital heart disease and paediatric surgical teams who began the task of putting her entire heart back inside her chest.”

She was transferred to the paediatric intensive care unit where she was due to stay for at least several weeks while she got strong enough and big enough for her heart to be placed fully within her chest and covered with her skin.

After seven days, her chest was opened a bit more to create space to allow her heart to fit back in. In the average baby, there is an indent on the left lung which leaves space for the heart, but she did not have this. Over two weeks, her heart naturally made its way back into her chest as a result of gravity.


I felt guilty for thinking negative thoughts because here she is fighting. I’m glad I stuck to my guns not to terminate.

Naomi Findlay, Vanellope’s mother

The latest operation involved taking skin from under her arms and moving it to join in the middle of her body. Surgeons had created a mesh that protected her heart as she did not have ribs or a sternum. As her organs fight for space inside her chest, she is still attached to a ventilation machine.

Babies born with the condition – one estimate is five to eight per million – have less than a 10% chance of survival.

Branko Mimic, the lead surgeon at the East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre, said: “Cases such as Vanellope’s, where everything else appears essentially normal, are even rarer, and whilst it would seem more hopeful she will do well, it is therefore almost impossible to be confident of this.”

Frances Bu’Lock, a consultant paediatric cardiologist at Glenfield Hospital, said she had described the chances of the baby surviving as remote. “I had seen one in foetal life around 20 years ago but that pregnancy was ended.”

Findlay said all the way through her pregnancy that she was warned the “chances of survival are next to nothing”. After the birth, she said, “I felt guilty for thinking negative thoughts because here she is fighting, and there there was I, about to give up. I’m glad I stuck to my guns not to terminate though, I’m so glad.”

Wilkins said: “I lost hope a few times, if she didn’t move I’d say: ‘Has she moved today?’ and then, the next thing, she’d suddenly move and you’d go: ‘Oh she’s heard me’.”

They named their daughter after a character in the film Wreck-it Ralph. “Vanellope in the film is so stubborn and she turns into a princess at the end, so it was so fitting. The Hope part of her name is the fact that she has brought us hope, and my mum and dad, because even they, as grandparents, thought they would never get to see their granddaughter,” said Findlay.

Wilkins said: “Some mums still terminate and if we can get out there that there is a hope, and that it can be done, then it’s giving all those mums out there a chance.” His daughter’s name was a reminder, he said, “that there is that hope”.

Baby girl survives after being born with heart outside her body, in UK first

A baby girl born with her heart outside her body is believed to be the first in the UK to survive with the extremely rare condition after undergoing three operations, the first within an hour of her birth.

At a nine-week scan, Vanellope Hope Wilkins was discovered to have the condition ectopia cordis, with her heart and part of her stomach growing externally.

Her parents, Naomi Findlay, 31, and Dean Wilkins, 43, of Bulwell, Nottinghamshire, were advised “termination” was the only option, they said.

But three weeks after her premature birth, by caesarean section on 22 November, Vanellope, who is named after a Disney princess, has survived three operations at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester, to move her heart back inside her chest.

Experts, including the consultant cardiologist, have said they do not know of another case in the UK where a baby has survived such a condition.

Describing their emotions on first being told of her chances, Findlay said: “I burst into tears. When we did the research, we just couldn’t physically look because the condition came with so many problems.”

Wilkins said: “We still didn’t know what we were looking at when we saw the scan, it looked like a little hamster with a hat on.”

They decided against termination, preferring to leave it to nature, and worried throughout the whole pregnancy.

Vanellope Wilkins undergoes corrective surgery, in what is believed to be a UK first, at Glenfield Hospital.


Vanellope Wilkins undergoes corrective surgery, in what is believed to be a UK first, at Glenfield Hospital. Photograph: University Hospitals of Leiceste/PA

The couple said they were told the first 10 minutes after birth were crucial as her ability to breathe would be essential. “But when she came out and she came out crying, that was it. The relief fell out of me,” said her mother. Her father said: “Twenty minutes went by and she was still shouting her head off – it made us so joyful and teary.”

Vanellope has undergone three operations carried out by a team of 50 staff at Glenfield Hospital. Immediately after her birth, she was wrapped in a sterile plastic bag. Consultant neonatologist Jonathan Cusack said: “At around 50 minutes of age, it was felt that Vanellope was stable enough to be transferred back to the main theatre, where she had been born, to the waiting anaesthetists, congenital heart disease and paediatric surgical teams who began the task of putting her entire heart back inside her chest.”

She was transferred to the paediatric intensive care unit where she was due to stay for at least several weeks while she got strong enough and big enough for her heart to be placed fully within her chest and covered with her skin.

After seven days, her chest was opened a bit more to create space to allow her heart to fit back in. In the average baby, there is an indent on the left lung which leaves space for the heart, but she did not have this. Over two weeks, her heart naturally made its way back into her chest as a result of gravity.


I felt guilty for thinking negative thoughts because here she is fighting. I’m glad I stuck to my guns not to terminate.

Naomi Findlay, Vanellope’s mother

The latest operation involved taking skin from under her arms and moving it to join in the middle of her body. Surgeons had created a mesh that protected her heart as she did not have ribs or a sternum. As her organs fight for space inside her chest, she is still attached to a ventilation machine.

Babies born with the condition – one estimate is five to eight per million – have less than a 10% chance of survival.

Branko Mimic, the lead surgeon at the East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre, said: “Cases such as Vanellope’s, where everything else appears essentially normal, are even rarer, and whilst it would seem more hopeful she will do well, it is therefore almost impossible to be confident of this.”

Frances Bu’Lock, a consultant paediatric cardiologist at Glenfield Hospital, said she had described the chances of the baby surviving as remote. “I had seen one in foetal life around 20 years ago but that pregnancy was ended.”

Findlay said all the way through her pregnancy that she was warned the “chances of survival are next to nothing”. After the birth, she said, “I felt guilty for thinking negative thoughts because here she is fighting, and there there was I, about to give up. I’m glad I stuck to my guns not to terminate though, I’m so glad.”

Wilkins said: “I lost hope a few times, if she didn’t move I’d say: ‘Has she moved today?’ and then, the next thing, she’d suddenly move and you’d go: ‘Oh she’s heard me’.”

They named their daughter after a character in the film Wreck-it Ralph. “Vanellope in the film is so stubborn and she turns into a princess at the end, so it was so fitting. The Hope part of her name is the fact that she has brought us hope, and my mum and dad, because even they, as grandparents, thought they would never get to see their granddaughter,” said Findlay.

Wilkins said: “Some mums still terminate and if we can get out there that there is a hope, and that it can be done, then it’s giving all those mums out there a chance.” His daughter’s name was a reminder, he said, “that there is that hope”.

Baby girl survives after being born with heart outside her body, in UK first

A baby girl born with her heart outside her body is believed to be the first in the UK to survive with the extremely rare condition after undergoing three operations, the first within an hour of her birth.

At a nine-week scan, Vanellope Hope Wilkins was discovered to have the condition ectopia cordis, with her heart and part of her stomach growing externally.

Her parents, Naomi Findlay, 31, and Dean Wilkins, 43, of Bulwell, Nottinghamshire, were advised “termination” was the only option, they said.

But three weeks after her premature birth, by caesarean section on 22 November, Vanellope, who is named after a Disney princess, has survived three operations at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester, to move her heart back inside her chest.

Experts, including the consultant cardiologist, have said they do not know of another case in the UK where a baby has survived such a condition.

Describing their emotions on first being told of her chances, Findlay said: “I burst into tears. When we did the research, we just couldn’t physically look because the condition came with so many problems.”

Wilkins said: “We still didn’t know what we were looking at when we saw the scan, it looked like a little hamster with a hat on.”

They decided against termination, preferring to leave it to nature, and worried throughout the whole pregnancy.

Vanellope Wilkins undergoes corrective surgery, in what is believed to be a UK first, at Glenfield Hospital.


Vanellope Wilkins undergoes corrective surgery, in what is believed to be a UK first, at Glenfield Hospital. Photograph: University Hospitals of Leiceste/PA

The couple said they were told the first 10 minutes after birth were crucial as her ability to breathe would be essential. “But when she came out and she came out crying, that was it. The relief fell out of me,” said her mother. Her father said: “Twenty minutes went by and she was still shouting her head off – it made us so joyful and teary.”

Vanellope has undergone three operations carried out by a team of 50 staff at Glenfield Hospital. Immediately after her birth, she was wrapped in a sterile plastic bag. Consultant neonatologist Jonathan Cusack said: “At around 50 minutes of age, it was felt that Vanellope was stable enough to be transferred back to the main theatre, where she had been born, to the waiting anaesthetists, congenital heart disease and paediatric surgical teams who began the task of putting her entire heart back inside her chest.”

She was transferred to the paediatric intensive care unit where she was due to stay for at least several weeks while she got strong enough and big enough for her heart to be placed fully within her chest and covered with her skin.

After seven days, her chest was opened a bit more to create space to allow her heart to fit back in. In the average baby, there is an indent on the left lung which leaves space for the heart, but she did not have this. Over two weeks, her heart naturally made its way back into her chest as a result of gravity.


I felt guilty for thinking negative thoughts because here she is fighting. I’m glad I stuck to my guns not to terminate.

Naomi Findlay, Vanellope’s mother

The latest operation involved taking skin from under her arms and moving it to join in the middle of her body. Surgeons had created a mesh that protected her heart as she did not have ribs or a sternum. As her organs fight for space inside her chest, she is still attached to a ventilation machine.

Babies born with the condition – one estimate is five to eight per million – have less than a 10% chance of survival.

Branko Mimic, the lead surgeon at the East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre, said: “Cases such as Vanellope’s, where everything else appears essentially normal, are even rarer, and whilst it would seem more hopeful she will do well, it is therefore almost impossible to be confident of this.”

Frances Bu’Lock, a consultant paediatric cardiologist at Glenfield Hospital, said she had described the chances of the baby surviving as remote. “I had seen one in foetal life around 20 years ago but that pregnancy was ended.”

Findlay said all the way through her pregnancy that she was warned the “chances of survival are next to nothing”. After the birth, she said, “I felt guilty for thinking negative thoughts because here she is fighting, and there there was I, about to give up. I’m glad I stuck to my guns not to terminate though, I’m so glad.”

Wilkins said: “I lost hope a few times, if she didn’t move I’d say: ‘Has she moved today?’ and then, the next thing, she’d suddenly move and you’d go: ‘Oh she’s heard me’.”

They named their daughter after a character in the film Wreck-it Ralph. “Vanellope in the film is so stubborn and she turns into a princess at the end, so it was so fitting. The Hope part of her name is the fact that she has brought us hope, and my mum and dad, because even they, as grandparents, thought they would never get to see their granddaughter,” said Findlay.

Wilkins said: “Some mums still terminate and if we can get out there that there is a hope, and that it can be done, then it’s giving all those mums out there a chance.” His daughter’s name was a reminder, he said, “that there is that hope”.

Baby girl survives after being born with heart outside her body, in UK first

A baby girl born with her heart outside her body is believed to be the first in the UK to survive with the extremely rare condition after undergoing three operations, the first within an hour of her birth.

At a nine-week scan, Vanellope Hope Wilkins was discovered to have the condition ectopia cordis, with her heart and part of her stomach growing externally.

Her parents, Naomi Findlay, 31, and Dean Wilkins, 43, of Bulwell, Nottinghamshire, were advised “termination” was the only option, they said.

But three weeks after her premature birth, by caesarean section on 22 November, Vanellope, who is named after a Disney princess, has survived three operations at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester, to move her heart back inside her chest.

Experts, including the consultant cardiologist, have said they do not know of another case in the UK where a baby has survived such a condition.

Describing their emotions on first being told of her chances, Findlay said: “I burst into tears. When we did the research, we just couldn’t physically look because the condition came with so many problems.”

Wilkins said: “We still didn’t know what we were looking at when we saw the scan, it looked like a little hamster with a hat on.”

They decided against termination, preferring to leave it to nature, and worried throughout the whole pregnancy.

Vanellope Wilkins undergoes corrective surgery, in what is believed to be a UK first, at Glenfield Hospital.


Vanellope Wilkins undergoes corrective surgery, in what is believed to be a UK first, at Glenfield Hospital. Photograph: University Hospitals of Leiceste/PA

The couple said they were told the first 10 minutes after birth were crucial as her ability to breathe would be essential. “But when she came out and she came out crying, that was it. The relief fell out of me,” said her mother. Her father said: “Twenty minutes went by and she was still shouting her head off – it made us so joyful and teary.”

Vanellope has undergone three operations carried out by a team of 50 staff at Glenfield Hospital. Immediately after her birth, she was wrapped in a sterile plastic bag. Consultant neonatologist Jonathan Cusack said: “At around 50 minutes of age, it was felt that Vanellope was stable enough to be transferred back to the main theatre, where she had been born, to the waiting anaesthetists, congenital heart disease and paediatric surgical teams who began the task of putting her entire heart back inside her chest.”

She was transferred to the paediatric intensive care unit where she was due to stay for at least several weeks while she got strong enough and big enough for her heart to be placed fully within her chest and covered with her skin.

After seven days, her chest was opened a bit more to create space to allow her heart to fit back in. In the average baby, there is an indent on the left lung which leaves space for the heart, but she did not have this. Over two weeks, her heart naturally made its way back into her chest as a result of gravity.


I felt guilty for thinking negative thoughts because here she is fighting. I’m glad I stuck to my guns not to terminate.

Naomi Findlay, Vanellope’s mother

The latest operation involved taking skin from under her arms and moving it to join in the middle of her body. Surgeons had created a mesh that protected her heart as she did not have ribs or a sternum. As her organs fight for space inside her chest, she is still attached to a ventilation machine.

Babies born with the condition – one estimate is five to eight per million – have less than a 10% chance of survival.

Branko Mimic, the lead surgeon at the East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre, said: “Cases such as Vanellope’s, where everything else appears essentially normal, are even rarer, and whilst it would seem more hopeful she will do well, it is therefore almost impossible to be confident of this.”

Frances Bu’Lock, a consultant paediatric cardiologist at Glenfield Hospital, said she had described the chances of the baby surviving as remote. “I had seen one in foetal life around 20 years ago but that pregnancy was ended.”

Findlay said all the way through her pregnancy that she was warned the “chances of survival are next to nothing”. After the birth, she said, “I felt guilty for thinking negative thoughts because here she is fighting, and there there was I, about to give up. I’m glad I stuck to my guns not to terminate though, I’m so glad.”

Wilkins said: “I lost hope a few times, if she didn’t move I’d say: ‘Has she moved today?’ and then, the next thing, she’d suddenly move and you’d go: ‘Oh she’s heard me’.”

They named their daughter after a character in the film Wreck-it Ralph. “Vanellope in the film is so stubborn and she turns into a princess at the end, so it was so fitting. The Hope part of her name is the fact that she has brought us hope, and my mum and dad, because even they, as grandparents, thought they would never get to see their granddaughter,” said Findlay.

Wilkins said: “Some mums still terminate and if we can get out there that there is a hope, and that it can be done, then it’s giving all those mums out there a chance.” His daughter’s name was a reminder, he said, “that there is that hope”.

Baby girl survives after being born with heart outside her body, in UK first

A baby girl born with her heart outside her body is believed to be the first in the UK to survive with the extremely rare condition after undergoing three operations, the first within an hour of her birth.

At a nine-week scan, Vanellope Hope Wilkins was discovered to have the condition ectopia cordis, with her heart and part of her stomach growing externally.

Her parents, Naomi Findlay, 31, and Dean Wilkins, 43, of Bulwell, Nottinghamshire, were advised “termination” was the only option, they said.

But three weeks after her premature birth, by caesarean section on 22 November, Vanellope, who is named after a Disney princess, has survived three operations at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester, to move her heart back inside her chest.

Experts, including the consultant cardiologist, have said they do not know of another case in the UK where a baby has survived such a condition.

Describing their emotions on first being told of her chances, Findlay said: “I burst into tears. When we did the research, we just couldn’t physically look because the condition came with so many problems.”

Wilkins said: “We still didn’t know what we were looking at when we saw the scan, it looked like a little hamster with a hat on.”

They decided against termination, preferring to leave it to nature, and worried throughout the whole pregnancy.

Vanellope Wilkins undergoes corrective surgery, in what is believed to be a UK first, at Glenfield Hospital.


Vanellope Wilkins undergoes corrective surgery, in what is believed to be a UK first, at Glenfield Hospital. Photograph: University Hospitals of Leiceste/PA

The couple said they were told the first 10 minutes after birth were crucial as her ability to breathe would be essential. “But when she came out and she came out crying, that was it. The relief fell out of me,” said her mother. Her father said: “Twenty minutes went by and she was still shouting her head off – it made us so joyful and teary.”

Vanellope has undergone three operations carried out by a team of 50 staff at Glenfield Hospital. Immediately after her birth, she was wrapped in a sterile plastic bag. Consultant neonatologist Jonathan Cusack said: “At around 50 minutes of age, it was felt that Vanellope was stable enough to be transferred back to the main theatre, where she had been born, to the waiting anaesthetists, congenital heart disease and paediatric surgical teams who began the task of putting her entire heart back inside her chest.”

She was transferred to the paediatric intensive care unit where she was due to stay for at least several weeks while she got strong enough and big enough for her heart to be placed fully within her chest and covered with her skin.

After seven days, her chest was opened a bit more to create space to allow her heart to fit back in. In the average baby, there is an indent on the left lung which leaves space for the heart, but she did not have this. Over two weeks, her heart naturally made its way back into her chest as a result of gravity.


I felt guilty for thinking negative thoughts because here she is fighting. I’m glad I stuck to my guns not to terminate.

Naomi Findlay, Vanellope’s mother

The latest operation involved taking skin from under her arms and moving it to join in the middle of her body. Surgeons had created a mesh that protected her heart as she did not have ribs or a sternum. As her organs fight for space inside her chest, she is still attached to a ventilation machine.

Babies born with the condition – one estimate is five to eight per million – have less than a 10% chance of survival.

Branko Mimic, the lead surgeon at the East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre, said: “Cases such as Vanellope’s, where everything else appears essentially normal, are even rarer, and whilst it would seem more hopeful she will do well, it is therefore almost impossible to be confident of this.”

Frances Bu’Lock, a consultant paediatric cardiologist at Glenfield Hospital, said she had described the chances of the baby surviving as remote. “I had seen one in foetal life around 20 years ago but that pregnancy was ended.”

Findlay said all the way through her pregnancy that she was warned the “chances of survival are next to nothing”. After the birth, she said, “I felt guilty for thinking negative thoughts because here she is fighting, and there there was I, about to give up. I’m glad I stuck to my guns not to terminate though, I’m so glad.”

Wilkins said: “I lost hope a few times, if she didn’t move I’d say: ‘Has she moved today?’ and then, the next thing, she’d suddenly move and you’d go: ‘Oh she’s heard me’.”

They named their daughter after a character in the film Wreck-it Ralph. “Vanellope in the film is so stubborn and she turns into a princess at the end, so it was so fitting. The Hope part of her name is the fact that she has brought us hope, and my mum and dad, because even they, as grandparents, thought they would never get to see their granddaughter,” said Findlay.

Wilkins said: “Some mums still terminate and if we can get out there that there is a hope, and that it can be done, then it’s giving all those mums out there a chance.” His daughter’s name was a reminder, he said, “that there is that hope”.

Baby girl survives after being born with heart outside her body, in UK first

A baby girl born with her heart outside her body is believed to be the first in the UK to survive with the extremely rare condition after undergoing three operations, the first within an hour of her birth.

At a nine-week scan, Vanellope Hope Wilkins was discovered to have the condition ectopia cordis, with her heart and part of her stomach growing externally.

Her parents, Naomi Findlay, 31, and Dean Wilkins, 43, of Bulwell, Nottinghamshire, were advised “termination” was the only option, they said.

But three weeks after her premature birth, by caesarean section on 22 November, Vanellope, who is named after a Disney princess, has survived three operations at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester, to move her heart back inside her chest.

Experts, including the consultant cardiologist, have said they do not know of another case in the UK where a baby has survived such a condition.

Describing their emotions on first being told of her chances, Findlay said: “I burst into tears. When we did the research, we just couldn’t physically look because the condition came with so many problems.”

Wilkins said: “We still didn’t know what we were looking at when we saw the scan, it looked like a little hamster with a hat on.”

They decided against termination, preferring to leave it to nature, and worried throughout the whole pregnancy.

Vanellope Wilkins undergoes corrective surgery, in what is believed to be a UK first, at Glenfield Hospital.


Vanellope Wilkins undergoes corrective surgery, in what is believed to be a UK first, at Glenfield Hospital. Photograph: University Hospitals of Leiceste/PA

The couple said they were told the first 10 minutes after birth were crucial as her ability to breathe would be essential. “But when she came out and she came out crying, that was it. The relief fell out of me,” said her mother. Her father said: “Twenty minutes went by and she was still shouting her head off – it made us so joyful and teary.”

Vanellope has undergone three operations carried out by a team of 50 staff at Glenfield Hospital. Immediately after her birth, she was wrapped in a sterile plastic bag. Consultant neonatologist Jonathan Cusack said: “At around 50 minutes of age, it was felt that Vanellope was stable enough to be transferred back to the main theatre, where she had been born, to the waiting anaesthetists, congenital heart disease and paediatric surgical teams who began the task of putting her entire heart back inside her chest.”

She was transferred to the paediatric intensive care unit where she was due to stay for at least several weeks while she got strong enough and big enough for her heart to be placed fully within her chest and covered with her skin.

After seven days, her chest was opened a bit more to create space to allow her heart to fit back in. In the average baby, there is an indent on the left lung which leaves space for the heart, but she did not have this. Over two weeks, her heart naturally made its way back into her chest as a result of gravity.


I felt guilty for thinking negative thoughts because here she is fighting. I’m glad I stuck to my guns not to terminate.

Naomi Findlay, Vanellope’s mother

The latest operation involved taking skin from under her arms and moving it to join in the middle of her body. Surgeons had created a mesh that protected her heart as she did not have ribs or a sternum. As her organs fight for space inside her chest, she is still attached to a ventilation machine.

Babies born with the condition – one estimate is five to eight per million – have less than a 10% chance of survival.

Branko Mimic, the lead surgeon at the East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre, said: “Cases such as Vanellope’s, where everything else appears essentially normal, are even rarer, and whilst it would seem more hopeful she will do well, it is therefore almost impossible to be confident of this.”

Frances Bu’Lock, a consultant paediatric cardiologist at Glenfield Hospital, said she had described the chances of the baby surviving as remote. “I had seen one in foetal life around 20 years ago but that pregnancy was ended.”

Findlay said all the way through her pregnancy that she was warned the “chances of survival are next to nothing”. After the birth, she said, “I felt guilty for thinking negative thoughts because here she is fighting, and there there was I, about to give up. I’m glad I stuck to my guns not to terminate though, I’m so glad.”

Wilkins said: “I lost hope a few times, if she didn’t move I’d say: ‘Has she moved today?’ and then, the next thing, she’d suddenly move and you’d go: ‘Oh she’s heard me’.”

They named their daughter after a character in the film Wreck-it Ralph. “Vanellope in the film is so stubborn and she turns into a princess at the end, so it was so fitting. The Hope part of her name is the fact that she has brought us hope, and my mum and dad, because even they, as grandparents, thought they would never get to see their granddaughter,” said Findlay.

Wilkins said: “Some mums still terminate and if we can get out there that there is a hope, and that it can be done, then it’s giving all those mums out there a chance.” His daughter’s name was a reminder, he said, “that there is that hope”.