Placenta imaging method may aid diagnosis of pregnancy complications

Placenta imaging method may aid diagnosis of pregnancy complications

An NIH-funded study has shown that a new placenta imaging method may be beneficial for the early detection of a number of pregnancy complications.

A new placenta imaging method to track maternal blood flow to the placenta has the potential to help diagnose several common complications – including ischemic placental disease – in the early stages of pregnancy, according to the study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers used the new technique, referred to as ‘pseudo-continuous arterial spin labelling magnetic resonance imaging’ – or pCASL MRI – to identify pregnant women with reduced placental blood flow who then went on to develop one or more complications.

The study was conducted by Sherin U Devasker, MD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues. The NIH-study was published in the Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

Pregnancy complications

Early in pregnancy, cells of the placenta cause uterine arteries to widen, increasing the supply of maternal blood. Failure of these blood vessels to enlarge sufficiently is thought to cause a number of potential complications.

For the study, researchers classified these complications as ischemic placental disease (IPD), which includes preeclampsia (a life-threatening blood pressure disorder), intrauterine growth restriction (failure of the foetus to grow normally), and preterm birth.

The researchers scanned the placentas of 69 women, first at 14 to 18 weeks of pregnancy and then at 19 to 24 weeks.

Unlike other technologies for imaging the placenta, pCASL MRI can distinguish maternal blood from foetal blood. A total of 15 pregnancies were ultimately identified as having one or more IPD conditions. Compared to the women without IPD, those with IPD had lower blood supply to the placenta at each of the two scans.

If the study results are confirmed, the method may provide a way to diagnose women at risk for ischemic placental disease in early pregnancy.

Funding for the study was provided by NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) as part of its Human Placenta Project, a research effort to understand the role of the placenta in health and disease.

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