A study published less than two weeks ago shows the dynamic of life in the womb and gives hope to pregnant mothers whose preborn children may have heart problems. The study, thought to be the first of its kind, provides a new glimpse into preborn babies’ hearts, allowing for a more accurate and earlier diagnosis of heart problems as well as the development of potentially lifesaving cures.
Researchers from King’s College London (KCL) and Evelina London Children’s Hospital in the UK sought to go beyond the usual ultrasound diagnosis, which they say is subject to too much movement by the baby. In an article published in The Lancet, researchers explained that the objective of the study was to investigate the use of prenatal MRI scans with motion-corrected 3D imaging software in the diagnosis of congenital heart disease.
“When congenital heart disease is suspected in a baby before they are born, clinicians using ultrasound are not always able to diagnose all details of the condition due to the technical challenges involved with imaging the tiny, fast-moving baby,” KCL said in a release. “This is important when an abnormality involves the blood vessels around the heart.”
According to Dr. David Lloyd, an author of the study and Clinical Research Fellow at KCL, the hope is to make this standard practice for the cardiology team at Evelina London at which 150 babies are born each year with congenital heart disease.
As the BBC reports, the results are phenomenal when implemented. Baby Violet-Vienna owes her life to it. This thriving baby developed what researchers described as “life-threatening abnormalities in the blood vessels around her heart” while she was still in the womb. Her mom Kirbi-Lea Pettitt was having a routine ultrasound at 20 weeks gestation when the issues were discovered. But what happened next saved the baby’s life. Violet-Vienna had two holes in her heart, and the main artery from her heart was narrowed. A series of 2D pictures of her heart were taken using an MRI machine and then sophisticated computer software pieced the images together to create a 3D image. This enabled doctors to devise a plan on how to save the baby’s life after she was born, rather than waiting until she after was born to decide how to proceed. At one-week-old, she underwent heart surgery and is now a healthy 11-month-old.
“Three dimensional MRI revolutionise the type of information we can obtain before babies are born. This impacts directly on care we provide after birth and provides new insights into structural heart defects before birth,” explained John Simpson, Professor of Pediatric and Fetal Cardiology at Evelina London.
The bottom line is that we can now see the heart moving three-dimensionally inside the womb during the first trimester. With the technology so readily available, it has become all the more easy to work to save babies’ lives.
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