Researchers develop wearable fetal heartbeat sensor from consumer-grade devices

In a recent study, the technology performed on par with recordings of fetal cardiotocography results.
By Laura Lovett
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Researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology have invented a wearable device designed to help expecting parents keep track of their child’s fetal heartbeat.

The lightweight technology uses seismo-cardiogram and gyro-cardiogram recordings collected from a consumer-grade sensor. When placed on the mother’s stomach, it detects vibrations when the baby is moving or its heart is beating. 

In the small study of 10 pregnant women, the research team found that performance was comparable between the new wearable sensors and the simultaneously collected recordings of fetal cardiotocography, which is currently the standard of care, they wrote in IEEE Xplore.

The team is pitching this as an alternative to larger sensors with a short battery lives. According to a statement, the technology weighs “next to nothing” and has more than a 24-hour battery life. 

The end goal would be to build a custom device employing the technology, according to a statement. 

WHY IT MATTERS

Infant mortality rates in the U.S. have continued to outpace other affluent countries, including Canada, Germany and Japan, with a rate of 5.9 deaths per 1,000 births in 2016. 

This crisis is particularly prevalent in the black community. In 2016, black infants died at a rate of 11.4 per 1,000 births, compared with white babies, who died at a rate of 4.9 per 1,000 births, according to the CDC.

This new technology is being pitched as a way to help expecting parents keep track of their unborn child’s health. 

"Almost a third of stillbirths occur in the absence of complicating factors," Negar Tavassolian, an associate professor who led the work at Stevens, said in a statement. "Our device could let a pregnant woman know if her fetus is compromised and she needs to go to the doctor."

THE LARGER TREND

There are scores of new companies coming onto the market addressing fetal health. In 2017 Bloomlife, a woman’s health tech company, landed two grants totaling in $2.3 million to be used toward funding a longitudinal study of its remote fetal monitoring wearable and to expand the development of its product. 

But fetal monitors have a long history in the space. In 2015 Sense4Babya maternal and fetal monitoring product, landed its second FDA 510(k) clearance for a tool that allows pregnant mothers to perform non-stress tests in their homes. As far back as 2011 the FDA granted Monica Healthcare’s AN24 wireless fetal monitor clearance to be used in single baby births.