Researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey have developed a wearable device designed to help expectant parents keep track of their child’s fetal heartbeat continuously at home. The non-invasive and safe device is potentially more accurate than any fetal heartrate monitors currently available in the market.
The device uses the same commercial sensors used in smartphones. When the device is oriented horizontally or vertically, it records vibrations sent through a mother’s abdomen when her baby’s heart beats or when the fetus squirms and kicks. Lauded by physicians, the device could potentially reduce an estimated 2.6 million stillbirths per year worldwide.
“Almost a third of stillbirths occur in the absence of complicating factors,” said Negar Tavassolian, an associate professor who led the work at Stevens. “Our device could let a pregnant woman know if her fetus is compromised and she needs to go to the doctor.”
Many stillbirths are preceded by variations in fetal movement and heartrate, so affordable, lightweight monitors that detect vibrations generated from a heartbeat could be worn continuously in the final weeks of pregnancy to ensure that distressed fetuses receive prompt medical attention, reports Stevens Institute of Technology.
A vibration monitor offers important advantages over existing tools based on ECG or Doppler ultrasound technology, which require specialized knowledge to use, and can be bulky and expensive.
Researchers tested the sensors on 10 pregnant women and found the device detected fetal heartrate with similar accuracy as fetal cardiotocograms — a standard wearable technology for fetal monitoring.
The current device uses commercially available sensors, but the long-term goal is to patent and market a custom-built device. Costing far less than equivalent ECG or ultrasound systems, such a device could capture a significant share of the global market for fetal monitors, which is expected to reach $3.6 billion by 2022.
The work is reported in the July 24 early access issue of IEEE Sensors Journal.