Doctors in Sheffield have been involved in pioneering the usage of a compact MRI scanner in treating premature babies.
The new treatment is utilised in order to image the brains of infants born prematurely.
Based at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, the machine is one of only two purpose-built neonatal MRI scanners in the world.
Prof Paul Griffiths, of the University of Sheffield, centrally involved in the new initiative, states that mobile MRI has been proven to be superior at demonstrating structures of the brain and abnormalities in infants.
Already 40 babies have been treated by the new MRI approach, with GE Healthcare and the Wellcome Trust having been involved in providing funding and equipment.
It is possible to ultrasound the brain of infants as bones in their skulls have yet to fuse.
Thus, soundwaves are able to travel through the two fontanelles of the developing brain.
Prof Griffiths commented on the advantages of the new system.
“Ultrasound is cheap, portable and convenient, but the position of the fontanelles means there are some parts of the brain which cannot be viewed. MRI is able to show all of the brain and the surrounding anatomy, making the images easier to explain to parents. From a diagnostic point, the big advantage is that MRI is able to show a wider range of brain abnormalities, in particular those which result from a lack of oxygen or blood supply.”
While it is common to perform MRI scans on babies, the risks involved can often outweigh the benefits.
The transfer and handling of a poorly infant can be particularly problematical, and this often dissuades hospitals from utilising the MRI procedure.
Thus, Griffiths points out how the new mobile MRI scanners can play a major role in treating young babies.
“MRI machines are huge, heavy objects which are sited in the basement or ground floor of hospitals, whereas maternity units are usually higher up, or in a completely different building, so it can mean a complicated journey to get a baby to and from the scanner.”
While MRI machines are typically unwieldy, the compact unit at the Royal Hallamshire is not much bigger than a washing machine, while it is also conveniently located adjacent to the neonatal intensive care unit.