Some babies are born with their skull and brain underdeveloped. This is a condition known as anencephaly, which means “no brain.” While some brain development may have occurred, it is typically not enough to sustain life. The anencephalic child is stillborn or dies soon after birth.
Anencephaly is one of a group of fetal developmental disorders called neural tube defects, which refers to problems with the spine, spinal cord, and the brain. The causes of these birth defects are unknown, but there are studies that indicate they may be associated with inadequate intake of folic acid during pregnancy. Some studies also indicate a link to certain drugs, especially those containing valproic acid. The anticonvulsant Depakote (valproate) is one of these drugs.
Researchers believe that fetal exposure to valproic acid through the mother in early pregnancy increases the risk of neural tube defects such as anencephaly by up to 20 times compared to pregnant women that do not take in valproic acid. According to a November 2011 Canadian study “Valproic acid-induced DNA damage increases embryonic p27KIP1 and caspase-3 expression: A mechanism for valproic-acid induced neural tube defects,” Depakote-related neural tube defects have a 1% to 2% incidence in infants.
The study used rats to observe how valproic acid acted on the DNA. The researchers found that it increased the production of the yH2A.X protein, which inhibited the ability of the DNA to replicate in the normal course of fetal development. Because most of the fetal development occurs during the first trimester, any interruption in the process has long-term and often serious consequences for the fetus.
According to the website of Williams Kherkher, Depakote has been in the market since 1983 for the treatment of epileptic seizures, and later for migraine headaches and bipolar disorder. Many women in their childbearing years had continued to take Depakote during their pregnancies, unaware of the risks until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning in 2011. It is uncertain how many of these women gave birth to an anencephalic baby because they were on Depakote, but medical records and the latest studies should be able to establish a link easily enough.
However, proving that the drug maker Abbott Laboratories via its subsidiary AbbVie was negligent in any way will be more difficult. A recent win by a 12-year-old plaintiff with spina bifida in state court sets a good precedent, but it takes a skilled birth defect lawyer to handle the big drug companies. If your child was born anencephalic and you had been on Depakote during your first trimester, you may be eligible for compensation. Find an experienced lawyer to help you in the process.