Video Game Technology Saving Babies Lives?

Video game technology is being used by researchers to help save lives

Researchers at several Australian hospitals are using technology normally found in video games and car airbags to better understand the high incidence of stillbirth. This research has been partly funded by SIDS and Kids and incorporates the accelerometer, a tiny electronic device that was originally developed for car airbags and is now used in Nintendo Wii, the Apple iPhone and Nike+iPod shoes.

Stillbirth remains a tragic mystery experienced by many in the community. Lack of movement in the final trimester of pregnancy has often been a sign that the fetus is experiencing stress or health issues.

However the reduced movement is often difficult to interpret as babies normally move less in the final trimester and mothers can only feel approximately one third of movements.
The fetal monitor is being tested at the Royal Women’s Hospital, The Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital (RBWH) and the Mater Mothers’ Hospital. It uses the accelerometer technology to measure babies movements over a prolonged period of time.

“Lack of fetal movement causes anxiety for mothers and we hope that our research will assist in alleviating this stress,” said RBWH research director, Professor Paul Colditz. “We would not be able to conduct this crucial research without the generous donations from fundraising activities such as Red Nose Day.”

The team has two major aims for this research. One, that it provides a framework to understand what a ‘normal’ pattern of movement is for a baby in the final term – a topic that is vastly under-researched.

And two, that it potentially leads to a low cost, non-invasive device that could be attached to the stomach of mothers who are concerned about lack of movement. Currently, worried mothers are advised to sit quietly and feel their stomach for any activity and this can be followed by heart monitoring and ultrasound.

A recent study from the Australian and New Zealand Stillbirth Alliance has shown that just under 10 per cent of women in late pregnancy are worried by a perception of decreased fetal movements and 50 per cent are concerned for more than 24 hours before contacting their midwife or doctor. This delay in reporting concerns is, in part, due to the difficulty in clearly defining what an important decrease actually is. This new monitor may help these women in the future.

“Ultimately, we hope that the fetal monitor could be as straightforward as a heart rate halter monitor. It allows us to follow the movement of a baby over a longer period of time, which the current ultrasound technology does not allow,” said Royal Women’s Hospital midwife and research co-ordinator Dr Christine East.

The fetal monitor is currently in clinical trial stage and researchers hope to have conclusive data about the clinical usefulness of the monitor when their studies are completed.

Red Nose Day is SIDS and Kids major fundraising event and will be held on Friday 26 June 2009.