'Open' MRI scanner captures live birth in Germany

Charité Hospital in Berlin says today's MRI of a live birth--the culmination of two years of research as they built a scanner to fit the woman during labor--is a world first.

The "open" scanner appears to capture the baby's eyeball most clearly.
Charité Hospital

Props to the woman in Germany who this morning became the first ever to give birth inside a magnetic-resonance imaging scanner.

Yes, the prototype scanner was built specifically for labor, and MRIs have been deemed quite safe. But the woman still had to give birth inside one, not to mention wear earmuffs to block out the high-frequency noise. (To protect the newborn's hearing, the scanner was switched off as soon as the amniotic sac surrounding it opened.)

Woman and baby are both fine, according to gynecologist Ernst Beinder at Berlin's Charité Hospital, who tells the Daily Mail that the birth was normal and the scanner captured all movements and processes throughout labor: "'We can now see all the details we previously could only study with probes," he says.

Today's birth is the culmination of two years of research, which included building what the team calls an "open" MRI scanner that is bigger than the typical narrow tube. The imaging technique uses magnetic and radiofrequency fields to produce a rotating magnetic field detectable by the scanner; unlike X-rays and CT scans, it does not use ionizing radiation.

The team hails the event as a major step forward in understanding how the baby moves through the mother's birth canal and why so many pregnant women need a Caesarian section (an estimated 30 percent of pregnancies in the U.S. result in one).

But Carl-Fredrik Weston, associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, says that while MRI scanning improves every year, with better images that can be captured faster, the technique still requires the object being scanned to be still long enough to capture images with high enough resolution to be meaningful.

"If you want full 3D you need to be still a couple minutes," Weston says. "If a birth is several hours, it could be possible to sit still for a while, take some images, and then continue. It's possible, but it's difficult. It must be uncomfortable."

Even so, several expectant mothers have volunteered to participate in the experiment, and five more births are scheduled to be imaged with an MRI machine, according to the hospital.