Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has installed a prototype “miniature” MRI scanner for new born babies, one of only two of its type in the world.
The prototype scanner is part of a two-year research project into the feasibility and benefits of scanning babies in the trust’s neonatal unit, based in the Jessop Wing Maternity Hospital.
“So far the quality of the images has got better as we have gone along”
The project is a collaboration between Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, the University of Sheffield, GE Healthcare, and the Wellcome Trust.
Around 40 babies have so far been scanned so far using the pioneering device. However, at present, it can only be used for research as it is not currently approved for clinical use.
If the pilot is a success, and the quality of the images and data and benefits are proven, it is hoped the scanner will be approved to enable it to be used on a routine clinical basis in future.
The scanner is considerably smaller than a standard MRI scanner, meaning it can be situated within or close to the neonatal unit, said the trust.
It will enable babies to be scanned in the neonatal unit rather than having to be transported to the main radiology department elsewhere in the hospital, which involves the baby being moved in a specially designed trolley incubator, or via ambulance transfer to Sheffield Children’s Hospital.
As a result, scans can be performed more quickly and the risks and difficulties associated with moving and handling vulnerable newborns is reduced, while providing more detailed clinical information than a bedside ultrasound scan.
Ground-breaking ‘miniature’ neonatal MRI scanner piloted
Two professors from the University of Sheffield have been working on the concept and design of the scanner for 12 years.
Professor Paul Griffiths said: “The idea is to learn how to use this new scanner to take high-quality images of babies’ brains. So far the quality of the images has got better as we have gone along.
“Babies, particularly with brain problems, are unstable – they can stop breathing or their blood pressure can change in an unpredictable way,” he said. “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 provide a more accurate diagnosis,” said Professor Griffiths.
He added: “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 other similar scanner has been tested in the US.