Next-generation device could herald breakthrough in prediction of pre-term birth

Impedance spectroscopy device picks up changes to the composition and structure of cervical tissue, helping to reduce early births

The research is being led by Professor Dilly Anumba, a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Sheffield’s Academic Unit of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine

  • Doctors and scientists from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sheffield to use pioneering technology to develop and test new device that could predict onset of premature labour
  • Small pencil-tip probe detects properties that are known to change in the cervix prior to the onset of premature labour
  • Once tested, all pregnant women could be offered an assessment of their risk of premature labour during their mid-pregnancy anomaly scan, between the 18-20th week of pregnancy

A new next-generation’device which could help doctors reliably predict the risk of pre-term birth is to be developed by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sheffield after funding was agreed by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Globally around 15 million babies are born prematurely – before 37 weeks – every year, a number which is rising. Complications from pre-term birth are the leading cause of death among children under five years of age, responsible for nearly one million deaths annually.

If a technique that reliably predicts pre-term birth could be developed, care measures can be employed to delay birth to reduce potential long-term disability and impairment

Now a team of doctors and scientists from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation trust and the University of Sheffield, who recently showed that women who are at high risk of pre-term birth have lower resistance in their cervix in mid-pregnancy than women who deliver at term, have been awarded £792,753 to test a small pencil-tip probe to detect properties that are known to change in the cervix prior to the onset of premature labour.

The device, which was developed and manufactured at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, part of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is a more-advanced version of its predecessor.

It uses pioneering patented technology involving a novel method of impedance spectroscopy to pick up on changes to the composition and structure of cervical tissue.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is a world-leading centre for impedance spectroscopy, and has been at the forefront of using the technique to study human tissue and make advances in the screening of cervical cancer and mouth cancer.

Once tested, all pregnant women could be offered an assessment of their risk of premature labour during their mid-pregnancy anomaly scan, between the 18-20th week of pregnancy.

Professor Dilly Anumba, a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation anda Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Sheffield’s Academic Unit of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine, said: “Pre-term birth is a huge global problem, and prediction and prevention remain challenging because current methods, such as measuring the cervix by ultrasound, have limited accuracy.

“If a technique that reliably predicts pre-term birth could be developed, care measures can be employed to delay birth to reduce potential long-term disability and impairment.

Thanks to NIHR funding, we will now be able to improve on our original promising invention, and build on the world-leading expertise in Sheffield to improve pregnancy and pre-term outcomes

“We know that even if we can delay birth by a number of weeks, we can reduce the risk of more-severe outcomes.

“Thanks to NIHR funding, we will now be able to improve on our original promising invention, and build on the world-leading expertise in Sheffield to improve pregnancy and pre-term outcomes.”

The first version of the device, which used electrical impedance spectroscopy, was tested on 500 women in a clinical research trial. Up to 200 women who previously had a pre-term birth will take part in the new study employing this innovative technique.

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