MRI detects abnormalities in pregnancies complicated by congenital heart disease

A Children’s National Health System team has found velocity-selective arterial spin labeling (VSASL), an advanced MRI technology, can detect early signs of global placental perfusion in pregnancies complicated by fetal congenital heart disease (CHD).

The study was published online Nov. 23, 2017 in Scientific Reports.

“While placental insufficiency is known to often result in fetal growth restriction (FGR) or preeclampsia, the relationship between placental function and congenital heart disease (CHD) in fetuses is largely unknown,” wrote the study’s lead author Zungho Zun, PhD, Children’s National Health System.

The research team, led by Catherine Limperopoulos, PhD, looked at 48 pregnant women (31 health volunteers and 17 with fetal CHD) who received at least one fetal MRI during their second or third trimester of pregnancy. 3D image acquisition with whole-placenta coverage was used along with VSASL to detect placental abnormalities.

“In pregnancies with fetal CHD, global placental perfusion significantly decreased and regional variation of placental perfusion significantly increased with advancing gestational age; however, no such correlation was found in healthy pregnancies,” Zun et al. wrote.

The team’s findings suggest placental dysfunction due to CHD can appear as early as the second trimester using VASL. They also note this is the first study to report non-invasive whole placenta perfusion imaging in utero.

"The predictive value of VSASL imaging, which we continue to study, holds the promise of detecting dysfunction before placental abnormalities become irreversible," Limperopoulos said in a Children’s National Health System release.