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“We took a fresh look at problem, designing a tiny device that could combine traditional measurements with a Bluetooth transmitter so that data can be sent wirelessly to a cell phone or computer,” says Garverick. “The data is transmitted via a cell phone to the Internet, where it can be analyzed in a semi-automated way and used to make treatment and monitoring decisions.”

The initial prototype, which incorporated an off-the-shelf handheld ultrasound device, performed just as well as a standard cardiotocography machine, and was able to detect a range of 50 to 240 heartbeats per minute. The team is now working on a second-generation device whose novel circuit design should help further reduce the size and cost. It also has additional features, such as the ability to track multiple babies at once. Garverick says it’s difficult to estimate the cost of the new device in production, but he predicts it will be in line with the cost—about $100—of consumer ultrasound monitors that perform much more limited functions.

Sense4Baby is part of a larger trend toward using consumer electronics and wireless technology to develop more portable and easier-to-use medical devices, such as cell-phone-based ultrasound. “The baby monitor is a great example of taking a device and making it more efficient,” says David Zar, a computer scientist at Washington University in St. Louis and chief technology officer at Mobisante, a startup that has developed one such system. “There is no new medical technology being developed, but rather, they are taking existing technology and packaging it in a way that becomes less expensive and more convenient for everyone.” Zar is not involved with West Wireless.

For the first field tests of the device, in Mexico, researchers hope to use it to monitor women in rural areas who are unable to travel regularly to a clinic. Unicef estimates that 80 percent of maternal deaths could be prevented with access to essential obstetric and other health-care services, including monitoring technology. “If we can keep the cost down, hopefully it can be used in all pregnancies and done at home, so the mother doesn’t have to make three trips to the hospital,” says Garverick. He adds that there is significant interest in the United States as well. “We have had interest from major health institutes to employ these in studies,” he says.

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Credit: West Wireless Health Institute

Tagged: Biomedicine, wireless, medical devices, ultrasound, pregnancy, heart monitor

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