Scientists discover how to take ultra-detailed images of a baby's heart in the womb, improving doctors' chances of spotting critical issues before birth.
Diagnosing congenital heart defects from the womb currently relies on 2D ultrasound echocardiography. While fetal MRI is very effective when used in most organ systems, it has technical limitations when it comes to movement. Fetal heartbeats are incredibly small and fast, so fetal heart images tend to look blurry in photos.
In a new study, published in the journal The Lancet, researchers from King's College London and the Evelina London Children's Hospital combine prenatal MRI with innovative motion-corrected 3D image registration software to create a 3D image of the baby's heart.
Researchers Produce Ultra-Detailed 3D Images
Study subjects include 85 pregnant women carrying babies with known or suspected congenital heart diseases.
Doctors first took 2D images of the babies' hearts from numerous angles using an MRI machine. Then, the data was put through a powerful computer algorithm that stacked all the 2D images and produced an extremely high-resolution 3D image of the heart.
According to the researchers, hospitals can easily adapt the technique they used for the experiments. With this type of a 3D model, doctors will be able to see any abnormalities in unborn children's hearts more clearly.
New Technology Helps Doctors Detect Disease Before Birth
BBC reports that one of the children who benefited from the new imaging technique is Violet-Vienna. She was still inside her mother's womb when she developed abnormalities in the blood vessels surrounding her heart.
Kirbi-Lea Pettitt, Violet-Vienna's mother, found out about her baby's issues during a routine ultrasound appointment when she was just 20 weeks pregnant.
Fortunately, Kirbi-Lea signed up for the study, which allowed doctors to spot a potential aorta blockage and two holes in Violet-Vienna's heart. The early detection ensured that the baby received proper treatment and surgery right after her birth, boosting her chances of recovery.
"Three dimensional MRI revolutionize the type of information we can obtain before babies are born," John Simpson, study author and a professor of Paediatric and Fetal Cardiology at Evelina London, explains in a release from King's College London. "This impacts directly on care we provide after birth and provides new insights into structural heart defects before birth."
According to CDC, about 7,200 babies are born in the United States every year with critical congenital heart defects. With this new innovation, these babies will have a better chance of survival due to their issues getting detected earlier on.