In Brussels, the Iris Network (Brugmann, Saint-Pierre and Etterbeek-Ixelles Hospitals) handles around 10,000 births a year, ie one birth in every two. This large maternity capacity is supported by cutting-edge expertise in the monitoring of at-risk and high-risk pregnancies. The Iris Network looks after many women with arterial hypertension (pre-eclampsia), diabetes mellitus or who are HIV positive. The Network’s specialist teams care for women of all origins, presenting with hereditary diseases likely to affect the foetus or carrying the risk of malformation, which can be higher in certain specific situations such as consanguineous unions (marriages between first cousins). Each patient is able to benefit from the most advanced monitoring to meet the particular requirements of her pregnancy.
The Iris Network offers outstanding expertise in foetal medicine. The Brugmann University Hospital specialises in foetal therapy, making it possible to treat the baby while still inside the mother’s womb. Using sophisticated techniques, it is, for example, possible to transfuse anaemic babies in utero. Even more impressive is the fact that since 2008, foetal surgery has been performed here – a cutting-edge branch of medicine, offered in only a few centres across the world. Every year, babies are operated on in their mother’s womb, in order to give them the best possible chance of life. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NIC) at QFCUH provides ongoing post-natal care.
For two years, the Iris Network has also been developing a detailed screening programme from the 12th week of pregnancy. In addition to the well known chromosomal abnormalities, such as trisomy 21, this programme makes it possible to predict certain health problems such as future arterial hypertension or other metabolic disorders. In line with this approach, the Iris Network now seeks to identify patients at risk of giving birth prematurely, as early as the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy, and offers them monitoring and, in some cases, appropriate treatment.
The Iris Network also addresses the concerns of those couples who have difficulty becoming pregnant and offers assisted reproductive technology (ART), such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Saint-Pierre University Hospital specialises in this field and works in close collaboration with the rest of the Network to offer each couple a personalised solution.
Foetal surgery now makes it possible to intervene in three principal situations:
- twin to twin transfusion syndrome (true twins connected via their placenta and who “take” blood from each other);
- diaphragmatic hernia (compression of the lungs by other organs moving into the chest cavity);
- cardiac valve defects preventing good blood circulation.