The birth of a baby is usually a joyous event, but when a child is born too early, worrisome complications can occur, including serious health problems for the baby and steep medical bills for the family. To address this, Johns Hopkins graduate students and their faculty adviser have invented a new system to pick up very early signs that a woman is going into labor too soon.
The normal length of a pregnancy is 40 weeks, while babies born before 37 weeks gestation are considered to be preterm. By detecting preterm contractions with greater accuracy and sensitivity than existing tools, the new system could allow doctors to take steps at an earlier stage to prevent premature births, its inventors say.
The health concerns and costs associated with premature births have received increasing attention in recent years, due in part to a rise in the number of multiple births, to the use of fertility treatments, which can cause multiple births, and to an increase in women who are having babies later in life. These trends are all associated with a higher risk of preterm labor.
The scope of the problem is significant: The National Center for Health Statistics has reported that about 500,000 premature live births occur annually in the United States alone. In a 2006 report, the Institute of Medicine described the high rate of premature births in the United States as "a public health concern that costs society at least $26 billion a year." Preterm births are widely linked to neonatal deaths or serious health problems such as breathing difficulties and brain development issues.
To help reduce these statistics, the Johns Hopkins biomedical engineering students wanted to improve the way doctors detect preterm labor. They designed and built a prototype that is now undergoing testing in animals. With further refinement, the students say, their system could eventually help physicians discover early signs of labor and allow the doctors to dela
|Contact: Phil Sneiderman|
Johns Hopkins University