Project type: Development

Inventors : Huy-Dung Han and Loan Pham-Nguyen, Hanoi University of Science and Technology

Globally there are estimated to be over three million perinatal deaths a year, almost all in low- and middle-income countries. In fact, perinatal mortality is one of the key indicators of a country’s socio-economic status and level of development. In high-income countries maternal-fetal medicine (or perinatology) has taken great strides over the past fifty years, particularly with the development of precise fetal heart monitoring and real-time ultrasound, which resulted in early intervention and lower mortality rates. In the low-resource settings that all too often characterize health care in low-income countries, however, such equipment is unavailable. Low-cost equipment for perinatology could save millions of lives, provided it is high quality and used effectively by trained clinicians. 

In recent years, the boom in wearable devices for the health and well-being market in the developed world has generated a plethora of low-cost fetal heart rate monitors (known as fetal dopplers) for home use. However, clinicians have raised concerns about consumers using such devices as patients may be falsely reassured by what they hear and delay medical attention. Without training, the sounds detected from the mother or placenta are easily misinterpreted as the fetal heartbeat.

Researchers at the Hanoi University of Science and Technology in Vietnam are developing a fetal Electrocardiogram (ECG) acquisition system with highly sensitive non-contact electrodes to address these concerns. Their novel system enables an accurate reading of the fetal heartbeat through clothing and is therefore more comfortable and less invasive for the mother. It is also completely safe is it relies on passive measurement of ECG signals from the mother and fetus, and effectively tells the two sets of signals apart.

While initially developed to enable smart health monitoring for pregnant women in high-income health settings, the inventors would like the i-Team to explore the potential to deploy their system in low- and middle-income countries to improve perinatal health outcomes.

Could their technology be integrated into growing tele-health and e-health systems designed to make expert clinical care more widely available in remote geographies? Could the fact that measurements can be taken outside clothing make the use of the system more acceptable in some cultures? If so, where and why? If there is potential for the deployment of the system in such settings, how might it need to be adapted? What further research and innovation needs to take place?