A man and woman’s failure to survive decades of pregnancy after being born with half their brains and no nipples has re-ignited questions about why the condition took such a long time to become known.
Now, decades after the case was first made, which documents the case of Patrick O’Donnell and Ann Glucker in 1987, the neuroscientists who first found the strange deformity are searching for clues as to why the condition, Anencephaly, still goes undiagnosed.
To date, the Omicron case has raised a lot of questions, says Paul Evans, a neuroscientist at Stanford University in California, but no clear answers.
First discovered in the 1940s by Dr. Mimi Tang and her colleagues in the US, Anencephaly typically causes an absence of middle and frontal lobes and a stunted growth of frontal forelimbs.
Ms. Glucker, 22 at the time, had been born at an Italian sanitarium, according to accounts. Dr. Tang’s reporting sparked headlines around the world and raised suspicion that a type of poliomyelitis, the culprit in many such cases, might have played a role. The confusion surrounding the case fueled the fact that it took so long to identify Anencephaly.
This sequence of events has lead Evans to use a new definition of the term Anencephaly. “The word has always meant missing parts. It doesn’t really describe this,” he says. “I like to think of it as missing any orifice.”
Normal brain size at birth is around 10-12 cubic millimeters. Anencephaly results in just 11-13 cubic millimeters.
Evans is a co-discoverer of a number of other neural anomalies that can trigger seizures and brain damage in newborns, but he thinks there are more that could be detected or studied.