Start: May 2019
Current status: Ongoing
Why do we need this research?
Currently, babies in the womb have their heart rate checked occasionally to see if everything is ok – usually at each antenatal appointment from 18 weeks onwards. However, these tests only give us a brief snapshot of the baby’s life. What’s more, since they were introduced into routine practice, these tests haven’t had any noticeable impact on preventing stillbirths.
To reduce stillbirth rates, we need to develop better ways of monitor babies’ heartbeat and movements over time.
The FeHeMo vest
Researchers funded by Tommy’s have developed a special device to monitor babies’ health over long periods of time, called the Fetal Heart and Movement (FeHeMo) vest. The vest is designed to be worn by pregnant women, and has sensors held in a fabric vest which listen to both the baby’s and the mother’s heart, as well as monitoring baby’s movements. Unlike other sensors, the ones in the FeHeMo vest do not need to be stuck to the skin in order to work.
So far, the FeHeMo vest has undergone some early stage testing with women. The vest now needs to be tested more thoroughly and improved so that the researchers can get approval to use the vest in clinical trials.
What’s happening in this project?
In the UK, medical devices like the FeHeMo vest need to be approved by the Medicines and Health Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before they can be used in clinical trials. Before the team can get this approval, they need to make some improvements to the device, as well as gather some more evidence that it works as they hope.
To do this they will be asking pregnant women to wear the FeHeMo vest to see if it can accurately record the mother’s heartbeat and baby’s heartbeat and movements. They will also be testing to see how well it performs compared to existing methods to monitor heartbeats and movements.
What difference will this project make?
The evidence gathered in this project will enable the team to apply to the MHRA for approval to use the FeHeMo vest in clinical trials. Once that has approval has been granted, the team will be able to test whether the vest can spot the early signs of distress in babies in the womb. Ultimately, improving the way that we monitor baby’s health will enable doctors to intervene early to prevent stillbirth.
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Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss.
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.