College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Scans could aid delivery decisions

Scientists are using MRI scans to see if they can determine when best to deliver babies that are not growing as fast as they should in the womb.

The University study aims to see if changes to the placenta can indicate when babies that are not growing as fast as they should need to be delivered.

These babies should be delivered to improve their survival rates.

This study is trying to find out whether information obtained from MRI scans of the placenta and baby is useful or not in assessing how a small baby is coping within the womb. It is very difficult to work out the right time to deliver small babies. If we can make that timing better, that will be a great advance.

Dr Fiona DenisonSenior lecturer in maternal and fetal medicine

Decisions to deliver

If a decision is made to wait so that these babies can have more time to develop in the womb there is a greater risk of still birth.

But if these babies are delivered too soon there is a risk that they may have not grown in the womb enough to survive after they are born.

Currently, seventeen babies are stillborn or die soon after birth each day in the UK.

The role of the placenta

The study is trying to find markers to indicate when the placenta - a baby's life support system in the womb - is failing to work.

This would then guide doctors as to when best to deliver the baby.

The study involves using a technique called spectroscopy.

This technique can identify proteins expressed by the placenta that could indicate whether it is working properly or not.

If we find that the baby is small we either watch and wait or we deliver the baby. If we watch and wait too long, the baby can die before it is born. If we deliver the baby too early, not only is it small, but it has the additional complications of prematurity. If we have a woman with a baby who is small we don't have any treatment at the moment, short of delivering the baby. Delivering the baby at the right time is very important.

Dr Fiona DenisonSenior lecturer in maternal and fetal medicine

The study, which has received funding from the charities Action Medical Research and Tommy's will involve 50 women recruited over a 30-month period.