Special: These theses that change life

It is a recognized fact that PhDs bring undoubted talents and innovative skills to the world of enterprise. UTC has chosen to present - in text, videos and humoristic photos - some theses that have led to highly beneficial applications in our day-to-day life. We’d like to think that you, the entrepreneurs will be inspired to trust PhDs as recruiting officers do all around the world nowadays!

Special: These theses that change life

A clinically relevant study of uterine electrical activity: prediction of premature birth delivery threats

Even today, the precise mechanisms that trigger birth delivery are still mysterious. But the fact remains: labour contractions that start too early in pregnancy put the baby’s life at risk. “Currently, some 6-7% of all births take place before the 37th week”, regrets Mahmoud Hassan. Premature births are the main cause of infant mortality and morbidity for new-born babies.

In order to detect imminent birth delivery signals, this young graduate biomedical engineer, who joined the UTC-BMBI Laboratory, Compiegne coming from the Lebanon, to work with Professor Catherine Marqué, on signal processing methods used to observe and record uterine contractions. “Standard monitoring equipment only records the mechanical contractions of the uterus. With Prof. Marqué, I have been working on the electric signals that the uterine muscle emits.” Even better now, we have rethought and reconfigured an EMG (electromyogram reader) to give us more data.

“Instead of placing one or two sensor pads, we installed a 10 by 10 (cm) matrix with 16 electrodes. Using the input from this sensitive surface, positioned on the future mother’s abdomen, we were able to measure the propagation rate of the contraction waves.”

A first series of studies was launched in a partnership with Landspitali - The National University Hospital of Iceland and the Amiens CHU (teaching) Hospital. Some 50 women volunteered to be monitored as of their 30th week of pregnancy for one-hour recording sessions: “Our objective here is to be able to distinguish between ‘normal’ uterine contractions s and labour contractions that led to delivery of the baby”.

The first sets of encouraging results have been observed; “Delivery contractions are longer and less frequent”. When we reach the point of being able to clearly distinguish between the two types of contractions, then mothers-to-be declared at risk could benefit from better clinical observation and even, under certain circumstances, be given treatment to stop the labour contractions.

“But before we can reach that point, we shall need a larger data base with at least 200 women, 100 of whom are “at risk” and 100 with no apparent problems”. Mahmoud Hassan is in charge of a European enquiry initiative with Slovenia, the Netherlands plus the Lebanon. “Four years from now, hopefully, we shall have built a sufficiently rich data base to draw relevant conclusions”, he adds, underlining that this multi-channel electrode matric might also prove useful for the study of epilepsy or heart disorders.