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Ultrasound safety review over brain damage fears
By Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent Published: 12:01AM GMT 16 Dec 2001
THE safety of ultrasound scans on pregnant women is to be reviewed by an international medical panel following evidence that the process may damage babies' brains. The review of safety regulations has been prompted by research, revealed in The Telegraph last week, suggesting that males born to women who had ultrasound during pregnancy were more likely to show signs of subtle brain damage than those whose mothers had not been scanned.
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Scientists also plan to carry out brain scans on these offspring, while Britain's Medical Research Council has been asked to fund research into the effects of ultrasound on developing cells. The investigations follow a study by a team of scientists in Sweden that compared 7,000 men whose mothers underwent scanning in the 1970s with 170,000 others who did not. The team found a 32 per cent higher rate of lefthandedness among those whose mothers had been scanned. While most left-handedness is genetic, doctors believe that it can also be caused by subtle brain damage in the womb that has also been linked to conditions ranging from dyslexia to epilepsy.
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An international meeting on ultrasound safety in Edinburgh was told last week that while the evidence was not conclusive, it raised questions over the routine scanning. "There are moves to relax the regulations on the intensity of ultrasound used, but clearly we cannot ignore this new research," said Dr Francis Duck of the British Medical Ultrasound Society. He said he would be raising the issue at an international meeting in the New Year to review ultrasound safety regulations. He has also asked the Medical Research Council to fund studies on ultrasound and cell development. He said: "We want to see if it has any effect on gene expression as the cells grow."
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Last week's meeting was told that a team of scientists at Trondheim University Hospital is planning to carry out brain scans of those born to mothers who were scanned during pregnancy. Critics of the Swedish study said that previous searches for a link between scanning and brain damage had failed to find conclusive proof. However, Dr Helle Keiler, who led the research team, said the earlier studies had involved far fewer people.
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The investigations follow a study by a team of scientists in Sweden that compared 7,000 men whose mothers underwent scanning in the 1970s wi...