Why do we need this research?
In the UK, around nine babies every day are stillborn. It is one of the most devastating experiences any family can go through. In order to prevent babies dying, we need to find better ways to predict which babies are at risk of stillbirth, so that doctors can intervene as soon as possible.
What’s happening in this project?
Researchers funded by Tommy’s are developing a new way to look at a baby’s heartbeat, to see if it can be used to spot babies who are in distress. Heartbeats are measured using electrocardiography, or ECG. This measures the tiny electrical signals that the heart produces as it pumps blood. It results in a waveform on a computer screen or on paper, which doctors can use to spot problems with the heartbeat.
Our researchers are investigating whether the shape of these ECG waveforms might provide clues as to whether a baby is at risk of stillbirth. They believe this might provide more information than looking simply at the heart rate – the number of beats per minute.
Working with mathematicians, the team will analyse ECG data from unborn babies to look for patterns. They will use this to develop a ‘traffic light’ system to indicate which babies are at the highest risk of stillbirth.
What difference will this project make?
The results from this project could lead to a new way to tell if an unborn baby is having problems which could lead to stillbirth. This would mean that doctors could intervene early to try and stop the baby dying. This test could also be used to reassure doctors and mothers that their baby is not at risk.
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Tommy’s funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss. We can keep you updated on our research news. If you're interested in being kept updated about our research and news from Tommy's, click here.
More research projects
A BBC News investigation has found that some private baby scanning studios are misleading customers by advertising “reassurance” scans that do not diagnose serious conditions and abnormalities.
In this Q&A, we sit down and chat with with Tom Willmott, a researcher based at Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre in Manchester. He gives a rare insight into a novel and exciting area of pregnancy health research, known as ‘maternal microbiology’, looking at what we can learn by studying bacteria in the mouths of mums-to-be.
A recently published article, co-authored by Professor Catherine Williamson from Tommy’s Research Centre at King’s College London, suggests that certain pregnancy complications can indicate future health issues for women.
Tommy’s has received a grant from the UK Government’s Department for Health and Social Care to support the costs of its PregnancyHub information and support services throughout the summer, due to rising demand in the wake of coronavirus.