MRI techniques to help prevent stillbirth

Fiona Denison, Scott Semple, Gillian Macnaught, Jane Walker, Jane Norman

Scientists are using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans to see if they tell when babies are struggling in the womb. If we knew when a baby needs to be delivered, this could help prevent stillbirth.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, uses powerful magnets to look at the structures inside the body. We have already shown that by using MRI, we can see differences in the brains of babies who are too small, and in the placentas that support them. These differences could be used to prevent stillbirth by helping to tell which babies are unwell and need to be delivered early.

Before using MRI to help deliver babies that are struggling, we needed to clearly understand what to look for. To do that, we looked at the changes that happen in the placentas and in babies' brains during normal pregnancy. We scanned 80 women with healthy pregnancies, and analysed the results so we could see what a normal pregnancy looks like using MRI. 

From this data, we were able to identify the normal ranges for placental metabolism. This provides us with a reference against which we can test for abnormal placental function. 

In future studies, we will use this information to see if we can identify a ‘failing placenta’ in pregnancies affected by complications, such as fetal growth restriction. 

Using the data from this study, researchers will also be able to create 'maps' of the placenta's structure and function. These maps can then be used to improve the MRI imaging techniques, providing a detailed and non-invasive way of looking at the placenta during pregnancy. 

Funding

This study takes place in a Tommy's centre and is funded by Tommy's and the Edinburgh Clinical Research Imaging Centre

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