Baby MRI: Miniaturised system

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  • Published: Feb 1, 2017
  • Author: David Bradley
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thumbnail image: Baby MRI: Miniaturised system

Down-sizing MRI

Susie Thoms' baby Toby benefited a ground-breaking prototype ‘miniature’ MRI scanner for babies has been installed at The Jessop Wing Maternity Hospital in Sheffield.

A miniature magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine that could be used to scan babies has undergone tests at The Jessop Wing Maternity Hospital in Sheffield, UK. The scanner is one of only two in the world and provides much more detailed clinical information than any crib-side ultrasound scan for more precise diagnostics. It also benefits from being more mobile than a standard machine and so does not require the patient to be moved too far for their scan.

The new installation is part of a two-year research project looking at the feasibility and benefits of scanning babies in the hospital's neonatal unit. The scanner has been 12 years in development from concept to design and was led by Paul Griffiths, Professor of Radiology at the University of Sheffield and Honorary Consultant at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and Martyn Paley, Professor of BioMedical Imaging also at the University of Sheffield.

Neonatal mobility

The machine is so much smaller than a conventional MRI scanner and so can be sited within or close to a neonatal unit. This allows new-born babies to be scanned without having to be moved to another part of a building or even another hospital. The advantages of that include more timely access to diagnostics and less risk for vulnerable babies that might suffer from being transported to another facility.

As part of the research study, Susie Thoms' son Toby benefitted from the baby MRI scanner. He was born six weeks prematurely by caesarean section and had to spend a week in neonatal intensive care. "Not having to leave the department was a massive advantage, because having to transfer elsewhere at what is already a difficult time, would be a lot of extra stress for Toby, myself and the teams involved," Ms Thom said. "You can get so much information from the MR images and see incredible detail."

"Toby coped with the scan really well and the care he received was absolutely brilliant on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Special Care Baby Unit. I didn't have any hesitation about taking part as I think doing this research, and possibly benefitting other parents and babies in the future, is very important," she adds. Baby Toby is now at home and his feeding tube has recently been removed and he is thriving.

Clinical support

According to Griffiths, "Babies, particularly those with brain problems, are unstable - they can stop breathing or their blood pressure can change in an unpredictable way. If that happens it is useful to have neonatal staff who are used to that situation in such close proximity, which will improve safety," he explains. "The MR images themselves provide a more detailed image and can help offer a more accurate diagnosis. The motivation to keep going with this project is a belief that at the end we will have something that is better for babies with these types of brain problems."

The baby MRI scanner project is part of a collaboration between the University of Sheffield, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, GE Healthcare, and the Wellcome Trust. If the research proves successful, and the high quality of the images it produces show significant clinical benefit, then the scanner might be instated as a permanent facility for routine clinical work in the years to come.

Related Links

Mosaic 2017, online: "The baby MRI: shrinking tech to help save newborn lives"

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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