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MRI could identify risk of miscarriages, early labor
January 7, 2018, 4:42 pm

Using latest imaging techniques, scientists at Leeds University in the UK are trying to understand why some pregnant women miscarry or go into early labor.

Around a quarter of miscarriages during the fourth to sixth month of pregnancy (mid-trimester) occur because of weaknesses in the cervix — the load bearing organ which lies at the base of the womb and stops a developing baby from descending into the birth canal before the due date.

By creating highly detailed 3D images of the cervix, researchers hope to develop a way to monitor and identify women with potential problems before they become pregnant.

Currently, ultrasound monitoring is used to identify women at risk of their cervix being unable to support the pregnancy. Little is known about why that problem develops, as knowledge about this process in the cervix is based on research done over 50 years ago. The new study is an attempt to update the knowledge base and find an answer to that question, said the researchers.

The study team used high resolution diffusion tensor MRI techniques to create 3D images that allowed them to understand the detailed micro-structure of the cervix. The images reveal a fibrous structure running along the upper part of the cervix that is more pronounced near to where it joins the womb but are less prominent further down the cervix where it joins the birth canal.

The fibers are made of collagen and smooth muscle and form a ring around the upper aspect of the cervical canal. During pregnancy these fibers provide strong support to maintaining the fetus in position and preventing micro-organisms from entering the uterus.

During labor, the body releases chemicals which result in the cervix opening and allowing the baby to enter the birth canal. But there are medical conditions where earlier in the pregnancy the cervix fails to support the baby, leading to a miscarriage or premature birth.

Findings from the new study could enable researchers to check the integrity of these fibers before or during pregnancy in order to identify at-risk mums, intervene earlier, and so prevent late pregnancy loss and pre-term birth.

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