Researchers at the the University of Nottingham have developed the world’s first fetal/maternal heart monitor that will allow mothers and their doctors to monitor a baby’s health outside of the hospital.
The fetal monitor is the result of years of collaborative work between engineers and doctors at the University. The original research was 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. In 2005 the technology was spun out to create Monica Healthcare Ltd. Led by both Dr Hayes-Gill and two ex PhD researchers from EEE, Dr Carl Barratt and Jean Francois Pieri, the company has gone on to develop the monitor even further.
This highly sensitive device, which is able to detect 0.00000001 volts, has now been reduced to the size of a mobile phone. It can compute real time fetal readings and the resulting data can be transmitted by wireless technology to the nearest PC or hand held computer. The device has now passed all EU regulatory safety standards and is currently undergoing clinical trials.
Dr Barrie Hayes-Gill expects the device to go on sale in October this year. “To date we have successfully completed over 33 per cent of the clinical trial. We expect to complete clinical trials in July 2007. This represents a tremendous achievement to turn a research device into a medically approved product in only two years — an experience which will place us in good stead for future medical products that we have on our horizon.”
One of the biggest obstacles in developing the fetal monitor was separating the baby’s heart beat from the mother’s signal. The team has successfully created a state-of-the-art device which can gauge both heart rates as well as fetal position. This unique home monitoring device could lead to a new approach in the management of pregnancy.
Dr Margaret Ramsay says it will play a key role in monitoring high-risk pregnancies. “For all these fetuses, the more we can monitor them, the greater the chance of us detecting that they are running into difficulties before it is too late to help them. This may involve urgent delivery of the fetus.”
The device will be especially helpful in monitoring fetuses whose mothers have medical conditions like diabetes, autoimmune conditions such as systemic lupus erythematosus and Sjogren’s syndrome and obstetric cholestasis. It will also be useful in monitoring fetuses identified as growing poorly or where it is suspected that the placenta is unhealthy and hence the fetus may become compromised due to lack of oxygen.”