Intelligent patch for remote monitoring of pregnancy
7/6/2023 Digitalisation News

Intelligent patch for remote monitoring of pregnancy

During pregnancy, regular medical checks provide information about the health and development of the pregnant woman and the child. But the examinations only provide snapshots, which can be dangerous, especially in risky cases. To enable convenient and continuous monitoring during this phase, an international research consortium is planning to push the technology of smart textiles further.

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With the help of novel wearables and smart textiles, researchers in the EU-funded Newlife project want to enable permanent obstetric monitoring in everyday life and thus capture more than just snapshots of the condition. One goal of the consortium of 25 partners is to develop a biocompatible, stretchable, and flexible patch to continuously monitor the course of pregnancy and the development of the embryo. Like a plaster, the patch is to be applied to the skin of the pregnant person, permanently record vital data by means of miniaturised sensors (e.g., ultrasound), and transmit them via Bluetooth to a terminal device, for example, a smartphone.

At the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microelectronics IZM, the team led by Christine Kallmayer is bringing this technology to application-oriented implementation and is benefiting from many years of experience with integration technologies in flexible materials. In the case of the integrated patch, the researchers are relying on thermoplastic polyurethanes as base materials in which electronics and sensor technology are embedded. This ensures that the wearing sensation is like that of a commercially available plaster instead of a rigid film. To make obstetric monitoring imperceptible and comfortable for the pregnant woman and the unborn child, the project consortium plans to integrate MEMS-based ultrasound sensors directly into the PU material. The miniaturised sensors are to record data via direct skin contact. Stretchable conductors made of TPU material will then transmit the information to the evaluation electronics and finally to a wireless interface so that doctors and midwives can view all relevant data in an app. In addition to ultrasound, the researchers plan to incorporate other sensors such as microphones and temperature sensors as well as electrodes.

Application after birth

With further demonstrators, the Newlife team wants to enable the monitoring of newborns. Sensors for continuous ECG, respiration monitoring, and infrared spectroscopy to observe brain activity are to be integrated into the soft textile of a baby bodysuit and a little cap. "Especially for premature babies and newborns with health risks, remote monitoring is a sensible alternative to hospitalisation and wired monitoring," explains Christine Kallmayer, the project manager at Fraunhofer IZM.
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