Wearable technology could soon help expectant mothers to avoid frequent trips to the doctor’s office for fetal and uterine monitoring.
Researchers at Drexel University are combining fashion design with RFID technology to produce a belly band that will monitor uterine contractions and fetal heart rate in real time.
The band, currently in prototype production in the Shima Seiki Haute Technology Laboratory in Drexel’s Expressive & Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center, could be used to monitor high-risk pregnancies, women near their due dates or as a quick, non-invasive procedure during a routine check-up.
“Current fetal and uterine monitoring requires patients to come into the hospital or testing center to be hooked up to a machine,” says Owen Montgomery, M.D., head of obstetrics and gynecology at Drexel’s College of Medicine, and one of the researchers working on the project.
“For high-risk pregnancy situations these visits can be quite frequent and inconvenient. The technology is also limited in what it can monitor and in some situations, rather invasive.”
Using electrically conductive thread, a fabric pattern is built in across the center of the band that includes a small pocket where a wireless, passive RFID tag is housed. Signal processing algorithms developed in Drexel’s Electrical and Computer Engineering labs process the changes in received signal characteristics from the RFID-enabled band to measure the intensity of the uterine contractions and other medical information from the mother and fetus.
“Because this is wireless technology, doctors will be able to monitor their patients inside or outside of a hospital and perhaps eventually it will be developed into a monitoring service that could immediately signal medical professionals if there is a problem,” says Kapil Dandekar, PhD, a researcher in Drexel’s College of Engineering who is working on the smart garment
The band’s first application is likely to be for monitoring uterine contractions. If successful, continued work could allow it to be used for additional fetal monitoring.
As a first step toward gaining FDA approval, the band is currently being benchmarked against commercial devices such as tocodynamometers used in healthcare settings to monitor pregnancy contractions.
“The initial data looks good,” said Dandekar. “We’ve been able to reproduce the same trends we see on the tocodynamometer.”