We are actively recruiting women with both high and low risk pregnancies to take part in the Placenta Imaging Project.  Please read on to find out more and contact us for more details. Fetal MRI cine sequence

What is the Placenta imaging Project?

The Placenta imaging Project ((PiP) www.placentaimagingproject.org) aims to assess the structure and function of the placenta in normal and high-risk pregnancies using magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound imaging and fetal ECG (heart rate) studies.  

The science behind the project: the roles of the placenta

The placenta is essential for normal development of the fetus. In addition to providing oxygen and nutrients for normal growth the placenta functions as the fetal kidneys, liver and lungs until the baby is born. Placental development is an intricate process which is still poorly understood. The following video (©2016 Joel B. Floyd, Jr.) demonstrates the early stages of normal placental development:  

If the placenta fails to embed fully into the uterus in the first few weeks of pregnancy there is a higher risk of problems such as fetal growth restriction or maternal preeclampsia. These disorders may result in premature delivery. Recent research has also highlighted the importance of the placenta for both maternal health and the lifelong health of the child

The aim of the project is to use a new approach, combining several new techniques to assess the placenta and its function in greater detail. This will allow us to determine the differences between a healthy and a failing placenta early in pregnancy before problems arise. Teams from Kings College London, University College London, Nottingham University and Columbia University in New York will combine their expertise in this three year study.


Interested in finding out more about the science? Click here

Why your scan is important to us?

We are aiming to explore ways in which Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) can detect early signs of problems within the placenta. In order to find out how to detect placental failure we need to assess placentas from normal pregnancies as well as those considered high risk.  We will combine all the information from our MRI with data from examination of the placenta after your delivery. We will compare this with routine data collected on your blood samples, ultrasound and the outcome of your pregnancy for both you and your baby. With your help we hope to improve the early detection of placenta failure and thereby prevent preterm delivery and other complications for both mother and baby.  

Meet the team

We have a team of doctors, nurses, midwives, researchers and specialists who work together on PiP. You will have regular contact with a member of the PiP team who will be your point of contact if you have any questions or if you would like to feedback to us at any stage on your pregnancy and delivery.  

Laura McCabe

Research Midwife



0207 188 7083

Mobile 07577005015

What is involved?

The study involves having one or two MRI scans during your pregnancy.  The actual MRI scan will last about one hour. At the time of the MRI scan you will also have an ultrasound scan and a blood test if this hasn’t already been scheduled as part of your normal care. After the MRI scan we will use a special heart monitor which uses stick on pads placed on your abdomen to record your baby’s heart.

Positioning of the ECG electrodes on mother's abdomen in order to record  fetal heart recording
Positioning of the ECG electrodes on mother’s abdomen in order to record fetal heart recording


We will take a short recording immediately  and ask you to keep the monitor on to take a longer recording overnight at home.  Your MRI scans will be looked at by an expert and we will send you a written report. You will also be given copies of your MRI scans on a CD to take home.


Fetus at 32 weeks

MR cine sequence showing fetal movements


Sometimes we may contact you by phone or invite you into a clinic to discuss the results further and whether it would be useful to share the results of your scan with your consultant. When you give birth to your baby, the placenta will also come out (sometimes called the afterbirth). We will ask your permission to send your placenta for further examination by one of our expert team so that we can compare what the actual placenta is like with what we could see from the MRI. After your delivery we will also ask whether you might consider recruiting your baby into a follow up programme, the developing Human Connectome Project, (http://www.developingconnectome.org/) that would include an MR brain scan and later developmental assessment for your baby. Each part of the study is voluntary and you can opt out at any stage. This will not affect your ongoing care.

We will use a Phillips 3Tesla Achieva scanner for these studies.

Getting comfortable in the scanner


If you are interested in participating in this project, we can provide you with an information sheet and then answer any questions you might have. You may like to watch a video on what is involved in having an MRI scan.

What happens after the MRI scan?

After the MRI scan, we will:

  • Keep in contact with you
  • Arrange any further scans if you agree
  • With your permission, collect information about you and your baby after delivery
  • Ask your permission to have your placenta examined after baby is born
  • Speak with you after your delivery to see if you are interested in taking part in another imaging study, the developing connectome project.

Are there any side effects of taking part?

MRI is safe for both you and your baby and has no known side effects associated with it. (We follow strict national guidelines). MRI uses a magnet so we will check you are metal free before your scan. If you suffer from claustrophobia, for instance you cannot use a lift, you may find it difficult to lie in the scanner. You may worry about being able to stay still in the magnet for a period of time but we will take time to make sure you are very comfortable when you are lying in the scanner and you will be given a break during the scan process. We aim to keep you at a constant body temperature during the scan, so we will check your temperature before and after.  The machine can be noisy so we give you headphones through which you will be able to listen to your choice of music . We will also be able to talk with you during the scan to check you are happy.  

Want to get involved?

If you would like to receive further information about the placenta imaging project (PiP) or you would like to discuss further with one of our team then please contact us here through this site, email gst-tr.fetalbookings@nhs.net or by phone  0207188 7073 and we will be in touch with you.