£10 million for research to improve ultrasound of unborn babies

Friday 21 March 2014

Ultrasound scan

Professor Reza Razavi, a children’s heart doctor at Evelina London, and colleagues at King's College London have been awarded £10 million funding to develop advanced imaging technology to more accurately diagnose birth defects in unborn babies.

Many serious abnormalities are not detected by current ultrasound scans. Undiagnosed babies become very ill soon after birth and there may be a delay before a diagnosis is made and they are transferred to a specialist centre for appropriate treatment.

If a birth defect is known in advance then the medical team can arrange for the baby to be delivered in a specialist unit with the equipment and expertise to treat their condition.

Diagnosing the condition before birth also means parents can receive counselling and meet the appropriate specialists. This helps them to make informed choices and prepare themselves mentally and emotionally for a potentially difficult period after birth.

Currently, screening for fetal abnormalities takes place at 12 weeks and 18-20 weeks using an ultrasound scan. It can be difficult to get clear images from the scan, particularly in obese mothers or when the baby is lying in certain positions, which means conditions such as heart problems can be missed.

The project will develop a computer-guided ultrasound system. This will produce 3D images of the baby in much higher resolution than is currently possible. The team are also aiming to develop computer software that will automatically analyse the images.

Professor Razavi says: “We are developing a new approach to fetal screening. It will allow the initial screening scans to be done in a few minutes, and provide a consistently higher detection rate for abnormalities.”

The research team believe the high quality 3D images will also help the understanding of fetal and maternal health in conditions such as slow growth of the fetus and pre-eclampsia, as well as the study of some chronic diseases.

The project has been jointly funded by the Wellcome Trust and the EPSRC Innovative Engineering for Health scheme.

Last updated: March 2014

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