Developing a sensor to monitor baby’s health during labour

Fiona Denison, Marc Desmulliez, Michael Crichton, Gerard Cummings, Claudia Ferreira

If the baby isn’t getting enough oxygen during labour, it can lead to brain damage. Our researchers are developing a brand-new sensor which could provide a reliable and non-invasive way to continuously monitor the health of babies during labour.

Start: March 2018

End: March 2021

Why do we need this research?

Babies need to be carefully monitored during labour to make sure that they are getting enough oxygen, as too little oxygen can lead to brain damage. This monitoring is normally done using cardiotocography, where the baby’s heartbeat is recorded in the mother’s womb. However, this isn’t always a reliable measure, as the baby’s heart rate may slow down without any underlying problems.

We need to develop better ways to continuously monitor the health of the unborn baby during labour. This would mean that if there are any life-threatening problems, the baby can be delivered through c-section as quickly as possible, reducing the risk of long-term complications.

What’s happening in this project?

An alternative way to tell if the baby is getting enough oxygen is measuring the amount of a chemical called lactate in the blood. This is currently done by making a small cut into the baby’s scalp while it is still in the womb. However, this is difficult to do and very invasive, and only gives one ‘snapshot’ of the baby’s lactate levels.

Our researchers are developing a new way to continuously measure lactate levels in the baby. They hope to do this using a sensor which attaches to the skin, and measures the lactate in the baby’s scalp, safely and non-invasively.

The team are modifying existing sensors, called fetal scalp electrodes, to see if they can be repurposed to measure lactate. They will a special enzyme which breaks down lactate to produce a molecule which can generate a tiny electrical current. This enzyme will be ‘printed’ onto the sensor, so that the more lactate present in the baby’s skin, the more electrical current the sensor generates.

What difference will this project make?

This innovative project could result in a new way to monitor the health of a baby during labour. Being able to continuously monitor the health of the baby will help to ensure that any problems can be acted upon as quickly as possible, to make sure that the baby has the best chance of a healthy life.

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