New MRI scans of babies in the womb | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - November 2007

New MRI scans of babies in the womb

Ultrasound scanning in pregnancy, pioneered with funding from Action Medical Research, has been relied on for over 30 years to provide valuable information on the state of health of unborn babies in the womb.

More recently, doctors have started to take magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of some unborn babies, particularly if ultrasound scans raise suspicions that the baby has a brain injury or its brain is developing abnormally. MRI has the potential to provide additional information that’s even more detailed than ultrasound, and it is already well established as a powerful tool for diagnosing abnormalities in the brains of adults.

The success of the scanning procedure relies on the patient staying totally still, which is obviously impossible to ensure when the subject is an unborn baby.The babies’ unpredictable movements in the womb mean that only poorer quality, 2D snapshots can generally be obtained, and even this is very time consuming.

A team at Imperial College London, led by Professor Mary Rutherford, has developed in pilot studies a radical new way of producing higher resolution, 3D MRI images of babies’ brains while they’re in the womb, all without spending overly long times in the scanner.The new MRI scans also provide hitherto unobtainable measures of the size of different parts of the brain.

In this Action Medical Research-funded project, the researchers aim to develop the new technique for routine clinical use.They are performing about 400 brain scans of babies in the womb, with full parental consent, and then following the babies’ progress by taking further scans after birth.They envisage that their work has the potential to help babies who have development problems in the womb, particularly if the baby’s brain is affected.

The Barking Badgers are generously contributing to the costs of this research.

Help us spread the word