The factors that lead to preterm birth, which affects nearly 10% of pregnancies worldwide, are poorly understood. Its effects, however, are known. Among them: cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, and visual and hearing impairments.
To better understand the cause of preterm birth, researchers need to better understand the uterine contractions responsible. Current imaging technology has not been good enough to get a clear picture of what causes contractions to start early and birth to arrive too soon.
The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has awarded $338,625 to Chuan Wang, assistant professor of electrical and systems engineering at Washington University in St. Louis’ McKelvey School of Engineering, to tackle this problem. Wang is working with an interdisciplinary team to develop ultrathin, soft sensors with printed, stretchable electrodes that can generate 3D maps of the uterine surface.
The sensors will be incorporated into a wireless, wearable imaging system that the team also will test and validate in people. The new technology should allow future researchers to map uterine signals during pregnancy and use this higher-quality data to better understand the causes of, and potential treatments for, preterm birth.