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Device Puts Preterm Labor in Check

This image is a rendering of the cervical ring and sensors. The prototype measures 50 mm in diameter.

A new device developed by biomedical engineering students at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore) could help doctors prevent premature births. CervoCheck is an early labor detection system that is designed to more accurately detect preterm contractions. By identifying the early signs of labor, doctors would be able to give patients medication to delay delivery up to six weeks, according to Karin Hwang, one of the device inventors. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that there are 500,000 premature live births each year in the United States.
 

One way that doctors currently monitor uterine contractions is via an external belt equipped with sensors that is attached to the abdomen. The device, called a tocodynamometer, doesn’t effectively identify preterm labor or work well on obese patients, says Abimbola Aina-Mumuney, assistant professor of maternal fetal medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. In efforts to push the project further, the Johns Hopkins students formed CervoCheck LLC with Aina-Mumuney, who is their faculty sponsor.
 

Device inventors from left to right: Karin Hwang, Chris Courville, Deepika Sagaram, and Rose Huang.

One of the differentiating elements of CervoCheck is that it bypasses the abdomen and is used internally (it is compressed and inserted into the vaginal canal). The ring, which is composed of biocompatible silicone elastomer, has embedded sensors to detect the electrical signals that indicate uterine contractions.
 

In addition to reducing the health risks associated with premature birth, the Cervo­Check inventors say their device will also save costs. According to Hwang, for every preterm labor that is prevented, there is a cost savings of $44,000.
The students developed the device as part of a yearlong master’s degree program. They have received several awards for the device, including first place in the University of California, San Francisco, Business Plan Competition. A provisional patent covering the device, which is currently undergoing animal testing, has been filed.

 

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