Reporter 459, 20 November 2000

Labour predictor near market

Scientists researching the relationship between electrical signals in the womb and the onset of labour have received funding to turn the idea of a labour prediction device into reality.

Dr Nigel Simpson and Professor James Walker from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University’s Medical School believe that the onset of labour is a predictable event.

Their research, featured in Reporter 454, monitors the electrical activity in the uterine muscle in the weeks prior to the onset of labour, and analyses the changes which indicate when labour is about to start.

The technique involves placing electrodes on the stomach of the mother-to-be, recording pulses much as an electrocardiogram monitors the heartbeat.

Following progress in computer analysis of these electrical signals, they are working to develop a small hand-held non-invasive device that will accurately predict the onset of labour up to two weeks in advance.

Dr Simpson and Professor Walker have set up a spin-off company, Jopejo, and obtained funding from the White Rose Technology Seedcorn Fund. The funding will enable the development of the prototype device and support a substantial clinical trial.

Whilst the device will eventually be used for women at risk of premature labour – one of the most dangerous complications in childbirth – it may also be adapted into an ‘over-the-counter’ version that women will be able to buy or hire for home use.

As well as warning of the early onset of labour, the kit will be able to distinguish false alarms from the real thing.

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