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Minimally-invasive prototype device monitors fetal O2 levels

12 May 2016

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"Our design, like other endoscopic tools, is intended for single use," Iriondo explained. "The device is durable enough to withstand unsheathing, expansion in the womb, attachment to the fetus and resheathing during removal."

"We took the same components found in the finger clip and basically mounted them onto flexible circuit boards we printed here," Loughlin said. "There are two LEDs, a red and an infrared, mounted on one side, and on the other side there's a photodetector that will detect how much light is passing through, which is related to the absorbance properties of the blood. That's related to how oxygenated the blood is."

"We turn the signal from the photodetector into a voltage that can be read, processed and turned into a number for oxygen saturation of the blood," he said.

At the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, the team tested their device on a baby doll in a ball, modeled after a similar unit in the Texas Children's facility. The hospital's more sophisticated version allowed them to insert a rudimentary WombOx through a port that models an incision and successfully loop it around the arm of the doll within, following their progress on a monitor.

WombOx prototype

Figure 2: The WombOx prototype built by engineering students at Rice University miniaturises the electronics of a pulse oximeter device to enable monitoring the vital signs of a fetus during endoscopic surgery. Techniques for these surgeries are being developed by Texas Children's Hospital. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

The focus of their project was to get the electronics right, miniaturising the components of a pulse oximeter to fit inside a tube only a few millimetres wide. What made it possible was having a loop made of nitinol, a flexible wire of nickel and titanium that can be formed into a specific shape. It collapses within the tube and returns to its intended shape when exposed to body temperature.

The team designed a sine wave-like section into the loop to give surgeons a visual reference. If the sine disappears, the loop is too tight.

The device will now go to engineers at Texas Children's for further refinement and validation, Wallace said.

"A lot of doctors have encouraged us and said, 'This is amazing, I'm glad you guys are doing this.' No one is taking it up because there's not a huge return on investment, but this will be amazing if it can actually monitor a fetus' vital signs and intervene if something goes wrong," she said.

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