Detecting developmental abnormalities in unborn babies

  • University of Sheffield

  • developmental abnormalities, premature birth

  • 2000-2001

The research

Baby hand and fingerDevelopmental abnormalities of the central nervous system are among the  most common birth defects and are responsible for some still births and miscarriages.

A routine antenatal ultrasound can often detect if there is an abnormality but the pictures offered by ultrasound are not detailed enough to give anxious parents answers as to exactly what is wrong and also how doctors can best address these problems.


 Professor Griffiths and his team at Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield, have shown that ultrafast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) produces a much more detailed picture than ultrasound.  With Sparks funding, they developed a new ultrafast MRI technology to diagnose abnormalities of the brain and the spinal cord of unborn babies.

The information provided has not only helped parents understand what is wrong with their baby, but has been useful for doctors who will be looking after and treating the baby when it is born.  Professor Griffiths’ research has influenced many experts in the field, who previously doubted that MRI would provide more information than could be obtained from ultrasound alone. Ultrafast MRI is now widely used in the western world to aid diagnosing abnormalities in unborn babies.

The research project funded by Sparks has paved the way for the development of an MRI-compatible incubator for newly born babies in intensive care.

Professor Griffiths said “All of this activity stemmed from Sparks having the vision to support our very early work and I remain exceptionally grateful for that”.

Sparks continues to fund vital research into children’s medical conditions. Find out more about our current projects or get involved in our fundraising events today.