Brain Imaging Technology Gives Doctors A Look At Unborn Babies’ Brains

20 week fetus

Thanks to new technology, we may be able to know the inner workings of a baby’s brain, before that baby is even born. Researchers from London are working on a new way to use MRI scans during pregnancy to see how the unborn infant is growing.

The research, funded by the Action Medical Research with support from WellChild, the national charity for sick children, is looking at a way to take a high quality scan of an unborn baby that could be used to detect brain injuries and abnormalities. With technology like this, doctors and parents would be better equipped to deal with an injured child before it is born.

In therory, MRI scans are a great way to take images of the growth and development of an unborn baby. Unfortunately, the scans require a person to lie completely still. The constant movement of a baby makes it difficult to get an accurate scan. The researchers are hoping to overcome this obstacle using the new technology that will create superior quality images.

Leading the research is Professor Mary Rutherford, a professor with 20 years of experience dealing with premature and vulnerable newborn babies. She hopes the new technology will provide doctors a way to see these types of injuries and abnormalities sooner.

She said: “The research team has recently developed a radical new way of using MRI to produce 3-dimensional images of babies in the womb, even if the baby is moving around. Funded by an earlier grant from Action Medical Research, the breakthrough technique provides previously unobtainable measures of the sizes of different parts of the brain.

“Now, we are applying the new technique to a more sophisticated type of MRI scan, called diffusion tensor imaging, so that it too can be used during pregnancy. We believe diffusion tensor imaging will have the power to identify injuries and abnormalities in unborn babies’ brains. It may also show how different areas of the brain are connected to each other, by revealing pathways that nerve fibres follow within the brain,” she added

Currently, the researchers are using the technology to look at 30 unborn infants who are at a high risk of developing a brain injury. They are also scanning 20 healthy infants. The scans will take place twice during pregnancy, and once again after birth.

The research is happening within a multidisciplinary imaging unit led by Professor Jo Hajna, who has developed state-of-the-art techniques for acquiring and interpreting MRI scans.

Dr Yolande Harley, Deputy Director of Research for Action Medical Research, said: “This is a really exciting project as the researchers hope the revolutionary new scans they aim to develop will benefit pregnant women whose babies are at risk of developing brain problems. The information obtained could be invaluable in the design of new treatments for brain damage, treatments that could dramatically transform the whole of a baby’s life for the better,” she said.

-Summer, staff writer

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About the author


Summer is a mom of three, living life in the slow lane along historic Route 66. She writes, homeschools, gardens, and is still trying to learn how to knit.

1 Comment

  • I can’t decide if this is cool or disturbing. Have they even considered the long term repercussions of MRI on the unborn?

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