Changes in life style over the last decades also include postponing of childbirth, which leads to higher risks of complications during conception, pregnancy, and labor.
Fertility problems are nowadays paralleled by important advances in assisted reproductive technologies. Yet, the success rate of these technologies remains low and research suggests that fertilization success is affected by uterine activity. Our research targets quantification of uterine activity based on ultrasonic and electrophysiological measurements. Ultrasound measurements are also being extended to the diagnosis of major uterine dysfunctions, such as (benign) adenomyosis and (malignant) sarcomas.
During pregnancy, monitoring aims at the assessment of the health condition of mother and fetus in order to enable timely intervention in case of complications such as a high risk of preterm delivery and fetal distress. Critical parameters for pregnancy monitoring are the cardiac activity of the fetus and the contractility of the myometrium (the uterine muscle). Unfortunately, due to the important limitations posed by current pregnancy monitoring techniques, reliable assessment of the health condition of mother and fetus is often impossible, resulting in ineffective or late interventions.
Electrophysiological pregnancy monitoring by electrodes placed on the abdomen of a pregnant woman has been shown, also thanks to the contribution of the BM/d lab, to be a promising alternative to current approaches. Our focus is the analysis of signals such as the fetal electrocardiogram and the electrohysterogram, which are indicators of the fetal cardiac activity and of the uterine contractility, respectively. Further advances are being explorered by employment of capacitive (contactless) sensors, favorying the implementation of long-therm monitoring. Employment of ultrasound Doppler technology is also being investigated to optimize the investigation of fetal cardiac rythm without need for operator intervention, but exploting the distribution of ultrasound transducers over a larger flexible substrate.
Our research includes validation of new sensing technologies, development of accurate mathematical models describing the underlying physiology, development of data-driven models, and design of dedicated signal processing tools. The ultimate challenge is permitting accurate and noninvasive extraction, analysis, and classification of parameters which are necessary for reliably monitoring of uterine motion to enable higher fertilization success rates and of the progress of pregnancy and childbirth.
Research is carried out in tight collaboration with clinical partners such as the Máxima Medical Center in Veldhoven, the Catharina Hospital in Eindhoven, the University Hospital Ghent (Belgium), and the Amsterdam UMC (VU location).