Pressure-sensing glove may help reduce stillbirths in developing nations
According to UNICEF, the vast majority of stillbirths occur in poor countries. An experimental new pressure-sensing surgical glove may help reduce those numbers, by allowing clinicians to gauge the orientation of the baby within the womb.
When a woman is having difficulty giving birth, it's often due to the fact that the baby is positioned in such a manner that it can't pass through the birth canal.
In wealthier countries, ultrasound and other technologies can be used to determine if this is the case. Those systems also show what position the baby is in, allowing obstetricians to decide how it needs to be moved. Unfortunately, clinics in developing nations often lack such expensive imaging devices. That's where the glove comes in.
Developed by scientists at University College London, it's actually just a standard surgical glove with flexible pressure and force sensors printed onto its fingertips – it costs only US$1 to produce.
The sensors are made of metal-oxide nanocomposites, which generate an electrical current when touching or rubbing against objects. Importantly, they're thin and sensitive enough that they still work even when a second glove is worn over top of them, in order to maintain sterility.
The idea is that if a woman is experiencing difficult labor, a clinician performing a vaginal exam can reach in with the glove and determine the orientation of the baby by ascertaining where its head is located, and which way it's facing. Additionally, the sensors tell the user how much force they're applying, to keep them from harming the baby.
A rough image of the head is currently displayed on the screen of a linked computer, although smartphone compatibility is in the works.
"The computer screen either shows a diamond shape (which is the shape of the anterior fontanelle which lies at the front of the baby's head) or a triangle shape (which is the shape of the posterior fontanelle which lies at the back of the baby's head)," lead scientist Dr. Shireen Jaufuraully told us. "The glove tells you which side of the baby's head is being felt when it comes into contact with the sutures (joints holding the bones together) of the baby's skull."
The prototype glove has already been successfully used to identify the sutures on silicone model baby heads. Clinical trials involving actual human births are now being planned.
"We hope that with successful clinical translation, the glove may be used worldwide, increasing the safety of assisted vaginal birth," said Jaufuraully.
The research is described in a paper that was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Global Women's Health.
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For this job it doesn't need to have anywhere the same resolution or bells and whistles of a typical scanner as its just trying to locate baby's head and hence implied orientation.
The proessing power of a modern smart phone is more than good enough for control and the image processing required.