A long-term, controlled-outcome analysis of in utero versus neonatal cleft lip repair using an ovine model.


Journal Article

Successful open repair of a cleft lip in utero has the advantage of scarless wound healing in the fetus. Unfortunately, no long-term outcome studies have been performed to evaluate the efficacy of these repairs. Moreover, no study to date has compared the long-term results of an in utero cleft lip repair to a similar, control-matched, newborn cleft repair. This study was performed to evaluate the 9-month outcome of in utero cleft lip surgery compared with an identical cleft lip repair performed on infant lambs. In utero epithelialized cleft lips were created through an open hysterotomy in sixteen 65-day-old fetal lambs (term = 140 days) using methods described by Longaker et al. Eight of 16 animals underwent subsequent in utero repair of these clefts at 90 days gestational age. The repair of the remaining eight animals was delayed until 1 week postpartum. At 9 months, the animals were analyzed for changes in lip contour and for the degree of scarring by hematoxylin and eosin and Masson's trichrome collagen staining. Two animals in each group died from preterm labor. Of the animals that survived to term, all repaired lips had some degree of abnormality postoperatively. One of six lips repaired in utero dehisced before delivery. Three of six neonatal repairs dehisced in the first postoperative month. In the remaining animals with intact lip repairs, the vertical lip height on the repaired side was an average of 9 to 12 mm shorter than the normal lip in both the in utero and neonatally repaired animals. Phenotypically, the postnatally repaired animals had more lip distortion and visible notching. Histologically, the in utero repair was scarless and the neonatal repairs had scar throughout the entire vertical height of the lip with an associated loss of hair in this region. Maxillary growth was also evaluated. There was no inhibition of maxillary growth in the animals that underwent in utero cleft lip repair. However, in the neonatal repair group, significant maxillary retrusion was evident. Compared with the cleft side of the maxilla, horizontal growth was decreased by 11 percent (p = 0.01). Compared with the intrauterine repair group, there was a 17-percent decrease in horizontal maxillary width (p = 0.01). Straight-line in utero repair of a cleft lip produces a better long-term result in terms of maxillary growth than a similar repair performed postnatally in the ovine model. There was no diminution in maxillary growth in the animals treated in utero. Histologically, in utero repair of clefts was indeed scarless. However, both lip repairs produced lips that were significantly shorter than their contralateral noncleft sides. This degree of lip shortening would require a secondary lip revision, thereby defeating the purpose of performing an intrauterine repair. Comparisons now need to be made between in utero and neonatal repairs using a Millard-type rotation advancement technique before intrauterine treatment can be considered to be more beneficial than our current treatment modalities.

Full Text

Cited Authors

  • Stelnicki, EJ; Lee, S; Hoffman, W; Lopoo, J; Foster, R; Harrison, MR; Longaker, MT

Published Date

  • September 1999

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 104 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 607 - 615

PubMed ID

  • 10456509

Pubmed Central ID

  • 10456509

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1529-4242

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0032-1052

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1097/00006534-199909030-00001


  • eng