Tiny fluctuations in a fetus's heartbeat can indicate distress, but currently there is no way to detect such subtle variations except during labor, when it could be too late to prevent serious or even fatal complications.
Now, a new system developed by an MIT scientist and colleagues including an obstetrician could allow much earlier monitoring of the fetal heartbeat. The additional researchers are from the Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble, Sharif University, Tufts Medical Center, and E-TROLZ Inc.
Among other advantages, the system is expected to be less expensive and easier to use than current technologies. It could also cut the rate of Cesarean deliveries by helping clinicians rule out potential problems that might otherwise prompt the procedure. Finally, the device used today to monitor subtle changes in the fetal heartbeat during labor must be attached to the fetus itself, but the new product would be noninvasive.
"Our objective is to make a monitoring system that's simultaneously cheaper and more effective" than what is currently available, said Gari Clifford, PhD, a principal research scientist at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. Clifford expects that the system could be commercially available in two to three years pending FDA approval.
While only a minority of pregnancies suffer from fluctuations in the fetal heartbeat, the issue is nonetheless critical because those that do can result in bad outcomes. These problems include certain infections and a loss of oxygen to the baby if it is strangled by its own umbilical cord.
Doctors today actually have two ways to detect the fetal heartbeat.
Ultrasound, in which a doctor moves a device that looks roughly like a hockey puck over a woman's abdomen or she wears a belt fitted with sensors, can detect the heartbeat quite early in a pregnancy. However, it is not sensitive enough to catch variations in the rhythm that could indicate problems.
Electrocardiography (better known as ECG or EKG), which records the electrical activity of the heart, can indeed catch subtle changes in the fetal heartbeat. The problem: until now there has been no way to reliably use the technique to that end except by attaching an electrode to the baby's scalp during labor.
Doctors can monitor the fetal ECG signal noninvasively through electrodes on the mother's abdomen, but it is weak compared to the maternal heartbeat and surrounding noise. Further, it has not been possible to separate the three signals without distorting characteristics of the fetal heartbeat key to identifying potential clinical problems.
"The dominant signal turns out to be the mother's heartbeat, so teasing out a tiny fetal signal in the background noise without altering the clinical meaning of the fetal signal is a problem that has proved virtually insoluble," said Clifford.
The new system separates the maternal ECG signal from the fetus's and background noise thanks to a complex algorithm derived from the fields of signal processing and source separation. Together, these fields work to break any signal into its source components.
Clifford's principal colleagues on the signal-processing work include Dr. Reza Sameni (whose PhD work focused on this problem), Professor Christian Jutten of Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble, and Professor Mohammad B. Shamsollahi of Sharif University. The researchers have described their approach in papers published in journals including the IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering and the EURASIP Journal on Advances in Signal Processing.
To use the system, which the team believes could be deployed during the second trimester of pregnancy (around 20 weeks) and perhaps earlier, a woman would wear a wide belt around her abdomen fitted with several ECG electrodes. (The prototype has 32, but that number will be lower in the final device.) The data collected from those electrodes are then fed to a monitor and analyzed with the new algorithm, which in turn separates the different signals.
Clifford notes that "one of the nice things about monitoring the fetal ECG through the mother's abdomen is you're getting a multidimensional view of the fetal heart" because its electrical activity is recorded from many different angles. The single probe now used to monitor the heartbeat during labor gives data from only one direction.
"So with our system it's like going from a one-dimensional slice of an image to a hologram," Clifford said.
That better view could help catch problems that might have gone unnoticed before. "If you're looking in just one direction and an abnormality is occurring perpendicular to that direction, you won't see it," Clifford said.
The large amounts of 3-D data captured with the new system could also open up a new field of research: fetal electrocardiography. "The world of fetal ECG analysis is almost completely unexplored," Clifford said, because the current monitoring system can only be used during labor and "essentially gives only a monocular view."
Clifford's key collaborator on the clinical work is Dr. Adam Wolfberg, an obstetrician and a fellow in maternal fetal medicine at Tufts Medical Center. To validate the algorithm and build the system, he turned to E-TROLZ.
Recently, several patent applications on the work were licensed by MindChild Medical Inc.
The original development of the device was funded by the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT).
Elizabeth Thomson | EurekAlert!
Gentle sensors for diagnosing brain disorders
29.09.2016 | King Abdullah University of Science and Technology
New imaging technique in Alzheimer’s disease - opens up possibilities for new drug development
28.09.2016 | Lund University
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.
Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine
21.10.2016 | Information Technology
21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences