Imagine a baby having mini-babies inside of his little body when it is born, almost like a baby born pregnant. This is a dilemma that was documented in a study published in the Hong Kong Medical Journal.
The masses of tissues showing the spinal cord (white arrow), anus (black arrow), and intestines (striped arrows). Picture credits: Kristine KY Pang et. Al
The published paper puts forth the case of a baby girl, fresh from the womb, herself carrying near to her abdomen two masses of tissue that might possibly be partially developed foetuses.
According to scientists, this might arise as a result of an extremely rare abnormality – one in 500 000 live births – in the development of the baby. The condition is called “foetus in foetu”, literally meaning “foetus inside a foetus”.
How did the ‘twins’ get inside the abdomen of their sister?
The cause is not yet known to scientists. The abnormality is characterised by the growth of a large chunk of tissues inside another one. The lump of cells growing on the inside will not undergo complete development: it will have no functional organ, and therefore, cannot be qualified as living.
The tissue mass probably starts as a normal foetus but gets folded into its twin at a later stage. But, no evidence exists to substantiate this theory.
Yet another possibility would be that the tissue is a developed teratoma, which is a tumour made of an aggregation of many cell types.
What will happen to our little newborn girl?
According to the researchers, the two lumps appeared after 10 weeks of gestation. Each of them had a spine, spine, intestines, bones with bone marrow, ‘primitive’ brain matter, a rib cage and an umbilical cord, as documented by the scientists. They were lying in the space of her liver and left kidney.
Moreover, the little girl and her ‘twins’ had the same DNA.
This might imply that the three of them were identical triplets at an earlier stage of pregnancy.
The mechanism that causes one of them to ‘swallow’ the others is not clear.
Fortunately, the two lumps inside the baby were successfully removed from the baby-girl.