Prof Reza Razavi, consultant paediatric cardiologist, wanted to improve the diagnosis of the birth defects after his daughter was born with one.
“We thought we were going to lose her, that was a strong motivator… we should be able to pick up the problem in the womb.”
He describes the 3D images as “beautiful” and says they let doctors clearly see the problem and improve care.
He told the BBC: “We can have complete certainty and plan ahead what treatment is needed, what’s the operation we need to do.
“It really helps the parents to have the right support to know what’s going to happen.
“But it also really helps the babies because they get the right operation at the right time and have the best outcomes.”
Will it be used?
The study, published in the Lancet, shows the 3D imaging worked in 85 pregnant women, but has now been tested on more than 200 patients.
Dr David Lloyd, a clinical research fellow at King’s College London, said: “Our hope is this approach will now become standard practice for the Evelina foetal cardiology team, who make a prenatal diagnosis in 400 babies each year.
“This will also improve the care of over 150 babies each year who deliver at St Thomas’s Hospital with known congenital heart disease.”
He says the technology would be easy to adopt if a hospital already has an MRI machine, because the only new equipment needed would be a computer with a decent graphics card.
The future of baby scans?
The research is part of the iFind project to increase the number of health problems picked up during standard pregnancy scans.
If they are diagnosed only after birth then vital time can be lost in trying to make a diagnosis.
Another approach is to use four ultrasound probes at the same time – current scans use one – to get a more detailed picture.