A new study published in Frontiers in Global Women’s Health has unveiled a remarkable development in enhancing the safety of pregnancy. The low-cost sensing glove, priced at only $1, was created to support healthcare staff in identifying fetal position and the force applied to the fetal head during labor. These factors, which can contribute to obstructed labor and poor birth outcomes, can now be monitored in real-time thanks to the technology provided by the glove during vaginal examinations.
The development of the low-cost sensing glove was based on a simple surgical glove as the foundation. The researchers printed flexible pressure and force sensors onto the fingertips of the glove using metal-oxide nanocomposites, which generate an electric current upon touch or friction with objects. To maintain a doctor’s sense of touch, the sensors were designed to be thin and unobtrusive. To ensure sterile conditions during vaginal examinations, a second surgical glove can be worn over the technology-enhanced glove. To enable real-time monitoring, the researchers also developed a smartphone app that displays the sensor data.
The development of the sensing glove also involved a thorough testing process to ensure its effectiveness. The researchers created silicone elastomer models of a baby’s head to simulate the delicate surface structures during a vaginal examination. An experienced obstetrician performed mock exams using the sensing glove and the silicone models to assess its ability to detect fetal position and measure the force applied to the head. The results were promising, as the glove successfully indicated the joints between the ‘bones’ of the model heads with a noticeable increase in electrical current. This ability enables healthcare professionals to determine the orientation of the fetus by identifying the joints. The sensing glove also accurately sensed the force applied to the heads, providing real-time data that can be viewed on a smartphone app. These results demonstrate the effectiveness of the low-cost sensing glove in enhancing the safety of pregnancy in low-resource regions.
With a production cost of less than $1 per glove, this innovative solution offers a cost-effective way to improve birth outcomes in low-resource regions. The absence of advanced medical technologies and trained staff in low and middle-income countries often leads to inadequate monitoring during labor, resulting in a high incidence of stillbirths. According to the researchers of the study discussed in the previous paragraph, 98% of stillbirths occur in such countries. Obstructed labor, caused by fetal position and size, is a significant contributor to poor birth outcomes. To effectively address this issue, healthcare professionals need to diagnose the problem as early as possible, but access to adequate technology and skilled staff can be limited in low-resource regions. With this in mind, the aim of the study was to develop a low-cost solution that would empower healthcare workers in these areas to assess fetal position and force applied during labor, ultimately improving birth outcomes.
The next step for the researchers is to assess the feasibility of the sensing glove in real-world conditions through human trials. If the results are positive, the technology could serve as an effective and affordable solution to monitor obstructed birth in low-resource regions. Additionally, it could be used as a training tool for healthcare professionals to improve the safety of pregnancy and childbirth in these areas. The potential impact of the technology is significant and holds promise for reducing the rates of stillbirths and maternal deaths in low- and middle-income countries.
“This is the first glove of its kind that could be used to identify fetal position and therefore may be able to improve labor outcomes,” said Dr. Shireen Jaufuraully of University College London, lead author on the study. “We hope that with successful clinical translation, the glove may be used worldwide, increasing the safety of assisted vaginal birth.”