Twin-twin transfusion syndrome: treatment with High Energy Focused Ultrasound (HIFU)

placenta cast twins

Twin-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS) can occur in pregnancies when identical twins share a placenta. It affects up to 15% of identical twin pregnancies and occurs when there is an imbalance in the placental blood vessels that connect both twins. This imbalance causes uneven blood flow between the twins, affects the growth of the babies, and can result in complications such as premature birth, disability or even death of one or both twins. Current treatments for TTTS, which include using a laser to destroy the abnormal blood vessels, carry a risk of infection and miscarriage.

Dr Christoph Lees, Head of Fetal Medicine at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Clinical Reader in Obstetrics at Imperial College London, has been awarded £2.2m from the Medical Research Council (MRC) to trial a new treatment for TTTS. The new non-invasive technique can be used to selectively target and destroy placental blood vessels.

Dr Lees said: “Each year around 300 babies die as a result of TTTS and there is a need to develop more effective treatments. In our previous research we have shown that High Energy Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) can be used to block blood flow in small placental vessels. If we could do this non-invasively using HIFU in TTTS we could reduce the chance of complications that are associated with current treatments.”

This grant will enable a first-in-human clinical trial to take place to investigate the potential of HIFU to treat this condition. For more information about TTTS, please visit the Twin and Multiple Births Association.

  • Professor Christoph Lees
    Professor Christoph Lees
    Reader in Obstetrics & Fetal Medicine / Consultant in Obstetrics
  • Medical Research Council