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MIT: New system monitors fetal heartbeat
Date:6/1/2009

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--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.

Two techniques

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 e
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Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
thomson@mit.edu
617-258-5402
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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