Purdue University researchers are developing an app and wearable technology to enable pregnant women to use a smartphone to detect whether they have or are susceptible to a condition that could lead to serious health complications for them or their unborn child.
The team, led by Craig Goergen, an assistant professor in Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering is developing a low-cost automated early detection sensor of preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication caused by high blood pressure that can cause organ damage and premature birth.
“We hope this will allow us to predict and prevent preeclampsia and reduce the number of children born prematurely each year. This could also reduce the long-term health complications for mothers,” Goergen said.
The researchers received a $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in November. The program is part of a family of initiatives by the foundation fostering innovation to solve key global and health development problems.
The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 10 percent of all maternal deaths in Africa and Asia are associated with hypertensive disorders during pregnancy and 25 percent of all maternal deaths in Latin America. Most of those deaths are avoidable, according to the WHO.
“The Gates Foundation is looking for something that’s going to have an impact in the immediate future in low- and middle-income countries,” Goergen said. “They are interested because the treatment and management of preeclampsia in sub-Saharan Africa, India, China and other developing countries is typically very poor.”
Dr. David Reuter of Seattle Children’s Hospital, a Purdue alumnus and a member of the research team, said the primary goal of pediatricians is to prevent disease.
“Addressing the problem of prematurity and preeclampsia could have profound implications for women and children globally,” Reuter said. “Our scientific insights provide an exciting road map to start revolutionizing the care of pregnant women.”
The device will measure whether a woman’s blood pressure increases when she changes position from lying on her left side to lying on her back. If the diastolic pressure increases enough, it is a warning sign that a woman is susceptible to preeclampsia, Goergen said. The researchers have obtained a provisional patent with the help of the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization.
Women will send the results to a doctor’s office, a health-care system or a centralized network for the results to be read and where they could receive counseling so they can start management and treatment options as early as possible.
While the Gates Foundation’s goal is to help women in developing countries, Goergen said the device the Purdue researchers are working on also could help women in inner cities and rural areas of the United States and other developed countries. They plan on initially testing the device on low- and middle-income women in and around Indianapolis once the researchers receive the necessary.
The Purdue research team is looking to partner with companies with technological expertise in these areas as the team works to further develop this technology.