Each year in Canada, more than 10,000 babies are born with fetal anomalies, many of which can be detected through prenatal education and routine screening. In 2018, Mount Sinai Hospital and SickKids, in partnership with Ontario’s Ministry of Health, launched the Ontario Fetal Centre, improving access for patients and their families to cutting-edge in-utero medical and surgical interventions for babies in utero.

Dr. James Drake, Surgeon-in Chief and Director of the Centre for Image Guided Innovation & Therapeutic Intervention at SickKids, and Dr. Tim Van Mieghem, Maternal–Fetal Medicine Specialist, Mount Sinai Hospital, have received more than $2.8 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation to build the research arm of the Ontario Fetal Centre, the Advanced Fetal Diagnostics and Therapy program.

The ambitious research program aims to tackle major technical challenges in robotics and imaging to improve difficult and often invasive clinical procedures used in utero. With this funding, the program will develop a novel image-guided fetal surgery platform that combines magnetic resonance (MR) and ultrasound imaging with millimetre-sized robotic tools. This will also advance MR-guided focused ultrasound, a non-invasive treatment for fetal applications that will allow the development of innovative procedures for conditions that have never been treated in utero. In addition, their work to refine existing minimally invasive procedures will help to reduce the risks to both mother and baby such as pre-term labour and other maternal complications.

Collaborating with international leaders including Johns Hopkins University, the program will also uniquely train both surgeons and engineers, working together, in the development of advanced medical technology. With the success of this program, these innovations will be integrated into clinical practice and expanded worldwide.