A baby is stillborn every 16 seconds, leading to heartbreak for more than two million families worldwide per year. Despite advances in care for babies after birth, progress towards reducing the number of stillbirths is lagging behind. Over 50 per cent of stillbirths are associated with a reduction in the baby’s movements in the womb but there is currently no way to track a baby’s movements at home.
A team of biomedical engineers and clinicians in University College Dublin (UCD) and Imperial College London has developed a unique wearable baby movement monitoring system, which they hope will address the urgent need to enable monitoring of babies’ movements in the womb at home, and dramatically reduce stillbirths globally.
The expert team has been awarded a contract as part of Wellcome Leap’s In Utero programme, which aims to create the scalable capacity to measure, model and predict gestational development with a primary goal to reduce stillbirth rates by half. Wellcome Leap is a non-profit organisation founded by the Wellcome Trust to accelerate and increase the number of breakthroughs in human health globally. The team aims to determine how their monitor (called the FM monitor, right) can be used to measure a baby’s health in the womb. The FM monitor could potentially identify babies who are at risk of stillbirth and will also offer reassurance when the baby is healthy, thereby decreasing the rates of unnecessary induction of labour and early delivery.
Principal Investigator for the team, from UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and the UCD Conway Institute, Prof Niamh Nowlan said: “We are thrilled to have been selected for funding by the Wellcome Leap ‘In Utero’ programme. The funding will enable us to further develop our device by engaging with pregnant people and their midwives and doctors, by testing the monitor at home and in hospital, and - we believe- will lead to our device being adopted globally to reduce stillbirth rates worldwide. The unique aspect of the Wellcome Leap ‘In Utero’ programme is that it funds international multidisciplinary teams of experts. Our team is made up of biomedical engineers and clinicians from Ireland, the UK and Bangladesh, and together we can work to make ground-breaking advances towards cutting stillbirth rates by half.
Co-PI from UCD School of Medicine and the National Maternity Hospital, Dublin, Prof Fionnuala McAuliffe said: "Every stillbirth is a tragedy for the parents and family but the majority of stillbirths occur when there are no obvious risk factors. New technologies such as baby movement monitoring will offer a crucial advance towards preventing stillbirth."
Prof Niamh Nowlan, Full Professor of Biomedical Engineering at UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, Senior Fellow at the UCD Conway Institute, and Visiting Reader at Imperial College London.
Prof Fionnuala McAuliffe, Full Academic Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at UCD School of Medicine, Consultant Obstetrician at the National Maternity Hospital, and Director of the UCD Perinatal Research Centre.