NU researchers develop a wireless fetal-monitoring sensor


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

The Feinberg School of Medicine. Ongoing research from the team indicates that the new wireless devices are more precise and accurate compared to existing technology.

Jacquelyne Germain, Assistant Campus Editor

Researchers from Northwestern and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill developed a wireless fetal-monitoring device for pregnant people.  

The wearable sensors equipped with a small rechargeable battery monitor the pregnant person and baby’s vital signs. They also provide information that can’t be gathered with existing technology, specifically the pregnant person’s movements and positions while in labor, according to a University release. 

For decades, pregnant people were restrained to their beds as a result of being connected to wires to monitor their health. They were also confined by having to wear fetal-monitoring belts that often shifted out of place and needed regular adjustments.

“Compared to some of the technology advances we see in cardiology or imaging, women’s health has lagged behind,” Feinberg Prof. Shuai Xu, co-senior author of the study, said. “To be able to generate new innovation and new technologies to make caring for women easier — as well as more helpful for physicians — has been an honor for our team.” 

By sending data directly to a doctor’s smartphone or tablet, the sensors create new opportunities for remote monitoring amid the pandemic and for pregnant people residing in rural regions, the release said. 

The study included data from over 500 women who wore the sensors, as well as traditional monitoring devices during labor in different settings with varying resource levels. 

The researchers distributed the sensors globally to medical centers in Zambia, Ghana and India with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The study will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of May 10.

Ongoing research from the team illustrates that the new devices are more precise and accurate compared to current technology. 

“The low-cost wearable sensors are both advanced technologically and highly usable in low-resource settings,” UNC-Chapel Hill Prof. Jeffrey Stringer said. “The sky is the limit for this monitoring technology. I think it will transform maternal-child health outcomes.”

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