MRI scanner for tiny babies

A miniature MRI scanner to improve diagnosis and treatment of brain damage in premature babies is being tested in Sheffield.

Paul Griffiths uses a baby dummy to demonstrate how the miniature scanner works

Paul Griffiths demonstrates the miniature scanner. He and Martin Paley have worked on it for 12 years.

One of only two in the world, the prototype scanner has been developed through a collaboration between Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Sheffield, GE Healthcare and Wellcome.

The scanner is considerably smaller than a standard MRI scanner, meaning it can be situated within or close to the neonatal unit and babies don't have to be transported to another ward, or hospital – journeys which add risk for vulnerable, newborn patients.

The baby MRI: big tech for tiny lives

Paul Griffiths, Professor of Radiology at the University of Sheffield and Honorary Consultant at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and Martyn Paley, Professor of MR Physics at the University of Sheffield, have worked on the scanner for 12 years. A scanner has also been tested in the USA.

Professor Griffiths says: "Babies, particularly with brain problems, are unstable – they can stop breathing or their blood pressure can change in an unpredictable way. If that happens it is useful to have neonatal staff who are used to that situation in such close proximity, which will improve safety. 

"The MR images provide a more detailed image and can help provide a more accurate diagnosis. The motivation to keep going with this project is a belief that at the end we will have something that is better for babies with these types of brain problems."

The prototype scanner is part of a two-year research project into the feasibility and benefits of scanning babies in the neonatal unit.

If the research is a success, and the quality of the images and data, and clinical benefits are proven, it is hoped the scanner will be approved for routine clinical use.