Tiny Hearts Monitored by NASA Technology
The results are in. A NASA
technology originally used to measure airflow over airplane wings
has been successfully used to develop a portable, non-invasive,
easy-to-use fetal heart monitor.
new clinically proven fetal heart monitor takes advantage of
aerospace technology to make it more affordable, portable and easy
to use by expectant mothers in their own homes. What's more, it
"listens, documents and stores" fetal heart-rate data without
injecting energy into the womb, making it totally non-invasive.
A team of aerospace researchers
from NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, worked with
Veatronics, Inc., of Charlotte, NC, to convert the technology to
this innovative medical application. NASA granted the company a
license to market one or more commercial products based on the
"Because the material we
used for wing surface measurements is flexible, it is ideally
suited to fit over the curved surface of a maternal abdomen for
fetal testing," said Allan Zuckerwar of Langley's Advanced
Measurement and Diagnostics Branch.
Current fetal heart-monitoring
devices generally work well but cost many thousands of dollars and
can only be used in a clinic or doctor's office.
NASA developed the portable
technology at the suggestion of a medical doctor in a remote area
that suffers from a lack of appropriate health care. For several
reasons, when expectant mothers do not receive necessary prenatal
care, the result is often increased fetal mortality.
In its present form, an
at-home patient would strap a wide, soft belt embedded with sensors
over her belly, tune a computerized control device to hear the
fetal heartbeat and send the signal directly to her doctor's office
via the Internet. The device is as easy to use as tuning a radio,
which one doctor considers essential to its ultimate success.
"I think the portability of this
technology will make it very useful," said Dr. Kevin Gomez, a
specialist in maternal fetal medicine at Atlanta Perinatal
Associates, Atlanta, GA. "Instead of having patients travel to
where the technology is, have the technology travel to the
Dr. Gomez led a recently completed
series of NASA-sponsored clinical trials at Morehouse School of
Medicine in Atlanta. Clinical trials also were sponsored at Eastern
Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, VA, and at Encino/Tarzana Medical
Center, Encino, CA. Among other things, the trials are expected to
establish that the NASA acoustic monitor meets federal Food and
Drug Administration guidelines. Results are being compared to those
recorded via Doppler ultrasound and scalp-electrode monitors, and
also to standard accepted measurements.
The Morehouse trials, along with
continuing investigations at Atlanta Perinatal, proved to Dr.
Gomez's satisfaction that the technology offers an easy-to-use
alternative to visits to the doctor's office. This is especially
important, he explained, for high-risk patients who should be
examined twice a week or more, or for patients who cannot easily
travel. All of Dr. Gomez's patients are considered high-risk, due
to maternal complications of pregnancy or fetal abnormalities.
Even perfectly healthy patients
may not be able to afford the time or money for periodic trips to
the doctor -- or may find themselves ordered to long periods of bed
The new method of checking fetal
heart behavior might actually prove to be a better way of
monitoring some pregnancies than technologies now in use. In
addition, the system could provide objective data to complement
information gained from other methods.
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Editor's Note: B-roll and soundbite video is
available that includes the technology's original aviation
application and its use with fetal heart-monitor patients. Contact
Gilman of Langley Public Affairs at (757) 864-5036 or email@example.com.