23 January 2017

Revolutionary ‘miniature’ MRI scanner for babies tested in Sheffield

A groundbreaking prototype ‘miniature’ MRI scanner for babies has been installed at The Jessop Wing Maternity Hospital in Sheffield.

  • MRI baby scanner is one of only two in the world
  • Miniature size scanner means minimal movement of newborns, dramatically reducing risk to babies
  • MRI images provide more detailed clinical information than bedside ultrasound scans allowing more accurate diagnosis

The scanner, which is one of only two in the world, is part of a two-year research project into the feasibility and benefits of scanning babies in the neonatal unit.

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, have been working on the concept and design of the scanner for 12 years.

The scanner is considerably smaller than a standard MRI scanner, meaning it can be situated within or close to a neonatal unit, and allow newborn babies to be scanned without having to be moved to another part of a building or even another hospital.

This means scans can be performed more quickly and the risks and difficulties associated with moving vulnerable babies are dramatically reduced.

The MRI images provide more detailed clinical information than a bedside ultrasound scan.

Susie Thoms’ son Toby benefitted from the use of the scanner, as part of the research study, after being born six weeks premature by caesarean section and spending a week in neonatal intensive care.

Susie from Sheffield said: “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.

"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.

"Toby is now back home, his feeding tube has recently been removed and he is doing really well."

Professor Griffiths, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease, said: “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.

“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 project is a collaboration between the University of Sheffield, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, GE Healthcare, and the Wellcome Trust.

If the research is a success, and the quality of the images, data and clinical benefits are proven, it is hoped the scanner will be granted the relevant approvals to enable it to be used on a routine clinical basis in years to come.

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