Cell phone sized portable fetal monitor technology has been produced by scientists from The University of Nottingham. Fetal monitors keep a watch on an unborn baby’s heart for potential danger signs, and can save an unborn childs life as well as keep the mother from complications. This device is small and simple enough to use so that expectant mothers can keep watch on their baby’s heart beat without having to go into a hospital and be hooked up to a machine. No other equipment available is capable of this. It has the potential to help 70,000 at risk babies per year in the UK alone, researchers say.
In the United States, the rate of high-risk pregnancies is rising. Statisticians say they may even be the highest since modern obstetric care became widely available. How is this possible? One big factor is more women over forty having babies. Others are the high rates of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure leading to pregnancy and birth complications. Fetal monitors let doctors and parents read signals from the unborn baby’s heart, then if intervention is necessary it can be done early enough to make a difference and save lives.
In the majority of the developing worlds rural areas, health services during pregnancy are virtually nonexistent. Visiting nurses carrying such a monitoring device could easily help save many lives.
15 Years of Reasearch
The device is the result of 15 years of research carried out by Dr John Crowe and Dr Barrie Hayes-Gill in the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE) and Professor David James and Dr Margaret Ramsay in the School of Human Development at Nottingham. In 2005 the technology was spun out to create Monica Healthcare Ltd., in order to commercialize the technology.
It works by digitizing electrical signals (as small as 0.00000001 volt) in real time and transmitting fetal reading the data via wireless technology to a nearby PC or hand held computer. One of the biggest technical challenges facing developers was differentiating the baby’s heart beat from the mother’s. The device can monitor both heart rates, as well as fetal position, a significant electrophysiological engineering achievement. Five electrodes are placed on the mothers abdomen; these feed data via wires to the device, which is worn on a belt or holter. Little to no training is needed to operate it, and it only weighs around 100 grams.
The device has Cleared all EU regulatory safety standards and is currently going through clinical trials. It is expected to go on sale in October 2007 in the UK.