Researchers create 3D images of a baby's heart inside the womb

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EPSRC-backed researchers at King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust scanned pregnant women in an MRI machine and used powerful computers to build 3D models of the unborn babies’ hearts.

One baby who benefited from the study was Kirbi-Lea Pettitt’s daughter Violet-Vienna, who developed life-threatening abnormalities in the blood vessels around her heart while still in the womb.

The study looked at unborn Violet-Vienna’s heart in vivid detail, and showed a narrowing of the aorta – the main artery coming from the heart – which would block the blood vessel after birth. It also revealed two holes in the heart.

The image allowed doctors to plan how to save Violet-Vienna’s life after she was born – the baby had heart surgery a week after she came into the world, and she is now a healthy 11-month-old.

Eighty-five pregnant women carrying babies with known or suspected congenital heart diseases were included in the study, the details of which were published in the medical journal The Lancet on March 22.

One of the authors, consultant paediatric cardiologist Professor Reza Razavi, told the BBC he was motivated in his research after his daughter was born with a heart defect. 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.”

Reference: PN 18-19