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Brain Imaging for Fetal Development: Our Research

Our research team of physicians, engineers and computer specialists lead some of the most advanced work in fetal brain imaging in the world. We offer a range of research opportunities, including active grants, recent publications and training programs.

Developing Brain Institute: Our Research Goals

Our research team at the Developing Brain Institute, led by Catherine Limperopoulos, Ph.D., focuses on developing innovative, noninvasive imaging techniques that detect brain development problems early in unborn babies. Our goals include:

  • Increasing our fetal brain imaging database with data on women with normal and low-risk pregnancies
  • Finding and identifying early warning signs of brain problems in fetuses, detecting even the smallest deviations at an early stage
  • Providing timely, accurate information about prenatal heart and brain abnormalities, including structural, functional and developmental problems

Our ultimate goal is to provide the earliest window of therapeutic opportunity for physicians to guide effective in utero medical and surgical intervention to fetuses. Such treatment can provide better health and development outcomes for children at birth and throughout their lives. Learn how to refer a patient to our institute for advanced diagnostic imaging.

Advanced Fetal Brain Imaging: Our Training and Research

We have received a U.S. Department of Defense grant to train military and civilian physicians to use advanced technology to study pediatric brain injury. Our internationally renowned experts train professionals in the United States and around the world to use their advanced technological processes. Through these training and research partnerships, we hope to not only advance our research, but also apply what we've learned to clinical use.

Our ultimate goal is to use our research findings to help guide medical and surgical interventions in women with high-risk pregnancies.

We work with trainees in a range of fields, including:

  • Cardiologists
  • Doctoral and postdoctoral students
  • Neonatologists
  • Neurologists
  • Neuroradiologists
  • Obstetricians

We are also seeking research partners to collaborate with us in our work, including several current clinical trials.

Of particular interest is our grant funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. Through it, we train military and civilian physicians to use our quantitative imaging techniques to study fetal brain development. 

Our Imaging Techniques for Fetal Brain Research

Dr. Limperopoulos and her team have developed quantitative techniques for advanced, noninvasive imaging. These include:

  • Quantitative MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): Measures fetal brain tissue volume and brain fold development using a magnetic field and radio waves
  • Proton magnetic resonance (MR) spectroscopy and magnetization transfer (MT) imaging: Measures the presence or absence of certain critical chemicals in the fetal brain

The key data we gather through these technologies helps physicians determine whether the fetus's brain is maturing properly.

Our researchers gather this data:

  • During pregnancy, in the second and third trimesters
  • Shortly after birth

Our extensive fetal brain development database is one of the most robust in the world. With it, were able to define benchmarks for normal (and variations of normal) development to compare with data from the high-risk fetus.

Join Our Research Projects

If you'd like to learn more about our studies and how you can collaborate with us or participate in one of our clinical trials, please contact our research team:

Clinical Trials

Benefits to participants in our clinical trials include:

  • Free parking during your visits to Children's National
  • $75 after each visit in gratitude for your participation in our study
  • MRI images of your baby

For more details, visit:

Learn more about our current clinical trials for pregnant women.