The PRECISE study: how to spot heart problems earlier in pregnancy

Heart problems in the growing baby are responsible for miscarriage, stillbirths and neonatal death. We want to find a way to spot these earlier on in pregnancy.

As part of the EPOS study, we are looking at how we can better visualise the structure of babies’ hearts in the womb. A congenital heart defect, or CHD, is any problem with the structure of the heart that is present from birth. These are responsible for around 20% of miscarriages and stillbirths, and 30% of newborn deaths.

At the moment, CHD is only found when the baby is already 20 weeks old. We want to use technological advances to find CHD and other anatomical problems earlier. This will shed light on the causes of miscarriage, and give parents more information to help them make difficult decisions.

In particular, we will use new 5D technology to look at the baby early in pregnancy. Normal ultrasound scans are 2D: you get images of the baby in a flat plane. Extra "dimensions" add more and more detail: 3D scans show depth, and 4D scans can show motion of the baby in real time. 

5D ultrasound scanning is the most advanced, and starts to automate the scanning process so that the scanner picks up important results on its own. This means that complicated scans – like looking at the structure of a baby’s heart early in pregnancy – can be made much quicker, simpler, and more consistent. 

So far, we have recruited 167 women. We have used two different types of 3D software to visualise the growing baby in the womb. Using this technology has enabled us to create detailed images of babies’ organs that are not usually seen using standard ultrasound scans.  

Through this project, we hope to find out whether this technology can be used as a reliable and efficient way to detect problems during the first trimester. 

Thanks for your interest in our research

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss. We can keep you updated on our research news.  If you're interested in being kept updated about our research and news from Tommy's, click here.

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