Why do we need this research?
If a baby doesn’t get enough oxygen during labour, there can be long-term health problems like brain damage, or even death. The methods we currently use to monitor the health of babies during labour are not reliable enough. We need better ways to monitor a baby’s health, so that when needed, action can be taken as quickly as possible to prevent long-term health complications.
What happened in this project?
Our researchers have been developing new methods to measure a chemical called lactate in a baby’s body during labour. This chemical increases in the blood if the body isn’t getting enough oxygen. However, blood lactate levels are currently measured by making a small cut in the baby’s scalp while it is still in the womb, which is difficult to do and very invasive. It only provides a ‘snapshot’ of the lactate level in the blood, rather than a continuous picture of the baby’s health.
Researchers supported by Tommy’s are trying to develop sensors that can continuously measure lactate levels. One way that they have been doing this is to use an established technology called microdialysis, where tiny needles are placed into the skin that can sample the fluid around the cells in the body. By looking at newborn piglets, the team have shown that the changes in lactate levels seen when using microdialysis mirror the changes in lactate levels in the blood. This means that it should be possible to pick up when a baby is in distress by using microdialysis instead of blood samples. Our researchers have also been working closely with engineers from Herriot-Watt University to design a microdialysis probe that can be safely attached and removed from the baby’s scalp during labour.
What difference will this project make?
This project has shown that, in principle, it should be possible to continuously monitor the health of babies during labour by using a microdialysis probe to track lactate levels. The researchers next want to test how well this probe works in animals. If this work is successful, it could lead to a new, more accurate way of monitoring babies during labour, helping to ensure that any problems are acted on as soon as possible. This would help to reduce the chances of long-term health problems for babies.