NRL News

New Technique Sheds Light on Fetal Development of Twins

by | Jun 7, 2012

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL-ETF Director of Education & Research

Every year we have more ways of visualizing the once invisible world of the unborn child. “Unborn twins caught on video MRI for the first time” is the latest example—a story in the New Scientist about a new system of medical imaging that offers a wonderful new window into the world of unborn. (See

The new “cinematic” magnetic resonance imaging system (MRI) goes beyond the traditional snapshot slice image to string together a series of images to create a video image.  This affords the viewer the chance not only to see movement but enhanced detail.


The short 22-second-long video on the website shows a set of twins facing each other, safely nestled in the mother’s uterus.  One twin seems to squirm about while the other swallows, moving a leg toward the end.  One get an exceptionally clear view of the arms and legs of the babies and amazing profiles of their heads and developing brains.  Nothing on the site indicates the age of these twins, though they appear to be in the later stages of development.

Marisa Taylor-Clarke is using the technique to study twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, a condition in which the blood supplies of twins sharing a placenta become connected, sometimes stunting one twin’s growth. She touts the quality of the new method. 

“A lot of the so-called videos in the womb are very processed, so they do a lot of reconstructing and computer work afterwards,” she said. “These are the raw images that are acquired immediately.”

Using the new imaging, Taylor-Clarke says one can better evaluate the impact of an operation often used to save the lives of these twins.The article notes that “Although one might assume that identical twins share the same environment until birth, it’s clear that they may have had quite different experiences, which may already have left lasting impressions on their development.”

Though offered in a medical context, the statement is true on a moral and metaphysical level as well.  Though twins may sometimes share the same DNA, each one is a unique person, with their own individual, shaping experiences from their earliest days in the womb.

The new technology simply confirms an old truth – every human being is unique and undergoes an amazing process of development that extends back to the very first moments of life.

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Categories: Fetal Development