Why do we need this research?
If a baby is starved of oxygen during labour, there is a risk they may die or end up with long-term health problems like brain damage. In order to improve outcomes for these babies, researchers funded by Tommy’s have been trying to find better ways of monitoring a baby’s health during labour, so that action can be taken promptly when a baby is in distress.
What’s happening in this project?
If a baby is thought to be struggling during labour, doctors may check the amount of lactate in their blood. Lactate levels increase in the blood if the body isn’t getting enough oxygen. However, this process is invasive – blood lactate levels are currently measured by making a small cut in the baby’s scalp while still in the womb – and only give a ‘snapshot’ of how the baby is coping, rather than providing a continuous picture of the baby’s health.
Researchers supported by Tommy’s have shown that it is possible to monitor lactate levels another way. By looking at newborn pigs, they showed that lactate levels detected by microdialysis – where tiny needles are placed into the skin to sample the fluid around the cells in the body – mirror lactate levels in the blood. They have also developed preliminary designs for a microdialysis probe that could safely and effectively be attached and removed from a baby’s scalp during labour.
In this current project, clinical researchers are coming together with engineering experts to build upon the previous work and develop a new technology that can enable better and continuous monitoring of babies during labour. The team will manufacture the microdialysis probe and lactate sensor, which could then be tested in animals to see how good it is at monitoring the health of babies during labour.
What difference will this project make?
If successful, this project has the potential to provide a new technology that could be used to monitor babies during labour, reducing the risk of long-term health problems or death by ensuring that any problems are detected and acted on as quickly as possible.