Purdue researchers developing device for pregnant women

Purdue University researchers are developing an app and wearable technology to enable pregnant women to use smartphone to detect whether they 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.

Other team members include George Wodicka, the Dane A. Miller Head of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue and Kirk Forster, a senior research engineer at the Weldon School. The team is working to combine available existing technologies such as smartphones, a conventional inflatable blood pressure cuff, and a wireless accelerometer (which measures body position) to build an innovative prototype that will detect preeclampsia before it develops.

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.

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.

Goergen said the device could help women in inner cities and rural areas of the United States and other developed countries and plan on initially testing the device on low- and middle-income women in and around Indianapolis once the researchers receive the necessary institutional approval.

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.