Amazing new MRI technology allows parents to see active unborn babies in exquisite detail

By Dave Andrusko

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Words like “astonishing” and “breathtaking” instantly come to mind. Using (here’s one of those words again) a revolutionary MRI technique, a London-based team of medics is allowing parents to see their unborn child in real-time in almost unbelievable detail, the Daily Mail reported.

The Daily Mail’s second sentence reads, “Expectant parents have had to be content with grainy ultrasound images but a leap in technology means the pioneering scan can even show high quality clear images of a 20-week-old baby’s heart, about the size of a one pence piece, thumping – and how a hefty kick ripples through a mother-to-be’s tummy.” (Of course, they already are mothers, but…).

Indeed, you can see the baby “stretching, wiggling, even swallowing.”

To its credit, the story almost immediately goes to a powerfully relevant question. This baby is approximately 20 weeks old. The legal limit to abort in England is 24 weeks. [1]

“The incredible detail reveals just how fully formed a foetus is at 20 weeks and reignites the debate on lowering the current 24 week legal abortion limit in the UK.,” the Daily Mail story observes. “Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has previously supported slashing the limit to 12 weeks and there have also been calls to reduce it to 20 weeks.”

Dr. Jenny Cook was part of the $12,500,000 project. She explained

The study, funded jointly by the Wellcome Trust and EPSRC [Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council ]aims to improve the accuracy of routine 18-20 week screening in pregnancy, by bringing together advanced ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques, robotics and computer aided diagnostics.

The study is called the “iFind project,” which stands for intelligent Fetal Imaging and Diagnosis.

So why is this superior to ultrasounds?

Ultrasound scans use very high frequency radio waves. An image is produced as the sound waves are reflected back, showing a basic outline of the baby’s vital organs.

“Unlike ultrasounds,” the Daily Mail explains, “the high-tech scan shows beneath the baby’s skin and beats normal MRI scanners by using complex technology to get usable images from even babies who move a lot in the womb.”

And that latter consideration is very important: this complex technology is able “to get usable images from even babies who move a lot in the womb.”

This is way beyond my competence but the gist is that the team developed an algorithm that “automatically copes or ‘corrects’ small fetal movements made by the baby during the scan to create clear images,” according to the Daily Mail.

The story concludes with a lovely quote from Cathy Ranson, editor of

Scans are amazing as they help mums, dads and even other family members bond with their baby.

There is nothing quite as emotional as seeing your unborn child moving inside you, and these MRI scans are taking images to the next level. They are truly breathtaking.

[1] Although as we have explained numerous times, there is an exception so huge that swallows the rule: the baby can be aborted until birth if there is a substantial risk of “serious” physical or mental abnormality. In the past that has included cleft palates.