Simple MRI method could help predict complications early in pregnancy

A simple, noninvasive method of imaging a mother’s placenta may help clinicians catch pregnancy complications early, before they exacerbate and endanger mom and baby.

That’s according to a new study by University of California, Los Angeles, researchers, published Nov. 4 in the Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

UCLA scientists made the early diagnosis using what’s called pseudo-continuous arterial spin MRI, pinpointing patients who had low blood flow to their placentas. Failure of maternal blood flow to reach this region is believed to snowball into several ischemic placental diseases, such as the life-threatening blood-pressure disorder preeclampsia, restricted growth of the fetus or preterm birth.

With financial backing from the National Institutes of Health, Dapeng Liu, PhD, and colleagues imaged 69 subjects’ placentas at roughly the beginning of the second trimester. They did so again during the backend of the second trimester at 19 to 24 weeks. The special method of MRI allowed clinicians to see the difference between maternal and fetal blood flow, making it easier to spot warning signs of pregnancy complications.

They identified 15 pregnancies with one or more placenta diseases, noting that each individual with one of those conditions also had lower blood supply reaching the placenta during both MRI scans, Liu and colleagues wrote.

The authors next plan to confirm the test’s results, hopefully paving the way for widespread early detection of women at risk of developing ischemic placental diseases in pregnancy.

Funding was provided by the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in conjunction with the Human Placenta Project’s research efforts.