Incredible new technology offers hope for babies with heart problems

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March 27, 2019 (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) — Scientists have created unprecedented 3D images of a baby’s heart while still inside the womb — a development which could help the treatment of babies with congenital heart disease.

Standard 2D images were taken using an MRI machine, and the images were then put through a powerful computer program developed by experts at King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust. The technology pieces the images together and adjusts for the speed of the baby’s heartbeat and its movements in the womb to create an unprecedented 3D image of the heart.

This then gives doctors a clear view of any abnormality.

To help babies with heart disease or screen them out? 

Congenital heart diseases affect up to eight in every 1,000 babies born in the UK. According to a Danish study, the rate of abortion for babies with major congenital heart disease (CHD) increased from 0.6% in 1996 to 39.1% in 2013 — a 65 fold increase.

However, Prof Reza Razavi, a consultant paediatric cardiologist, told the BBC that he wanted to improve the diagnosis of the birth defects after his daughter was born with one. “We thought we were going to lose her, that was a strong motivator… we should be able to pick up the problem in the womb,” he said.

He describes the 3D images as “beautiful” and says they let doctors clearly see the problem and improve care. He said: “We can have complete certainty and plan ahead what treatment is needed, what’s the operation we need to do.

“It really helps the parents to have the right support to know what’s going to happen. But it also really helps the babies because they get the right operation at the right time and have the best outcomes.”

The research is part of the iFind project, which also produced this incredible video of a twenty-week-old baby in the womb.

Let’s hope that this incredible technology is used to provide care for babies with heart disease, and is not used as another tool to screen them out.

Published with permission from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

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