Making Birth Easier With Israeli Technology and a Smartphone

Expectant mothers can measure their own cervical dilation, obviating the need for invasive examinations. Israelis are also developing technology to find the best embryos for IVF procedures.

Dan Even
Dan Even
Dan Even
Dan Even

Feminist critics have highlighted an unpleasant part of childbirth: doctors – usually men - inserting their fingers into the vagina to measure the degree of cervical dilation.

To avoid this unpleasantness, a team at Afeka College of Engineering in Tel Aviv has developed a sensor that can gauge cervical dilation better than any doctor’s fingers can. (Natural birth requires dilation of 10 centimeters.)

The special sensor is the invention of student Maayan Pokshivka under the tutelage of Yael Danai Menuhin, a project manager and lecturer at the medical engineering department.

At present, says Danai Menuhin, an expectant mother may be examined manually numerous times. Moreover, women may be sent home if they arrived at the hospital with insufficient dilation.

The sensor transmits its results to a screen using wireless Bluetooth technology.

Originally the numbers were shown on an electronic bracelet worn by the expectant mother - but they can also be shown on a computer or smartphone.

"Replacing the current method with an automatic, continuous and precise method will save repeated unpleasant examinations and give the woman a clear estimate while she’s at home,” Danai Menuhim says. “She’ll know when to come to the hospital; for example, when the dilation is 8 centimeters.”

Another project at Afeka, by student Shimrit Solnik also under Danai Menuhin, was developed in cooperation with the IVF lab at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital. It’s software with an algorithm for developing lab pictures to choose the highest-quality fertilized egg.

Of course, pregnancy via in vitro fertilization is no sure thing, even decades after the first IVF success. A recent study by Maccabi Health Services showed a decline in the number of pregnancies resulting from IVF – from 18.8 percent of all treatment cycles in 2007 to 14.8 percent in 2010 – a decline of 21 percent.

The new algorithm operates on the Matlab program for processing microscopic pictures. "The goal of the algorithm is to examine objectively whether the fertilized egg has divided well and what its quality is," Danai Menuhin says.

Forget the microscope

Today embryologists usually use a microscope to find the best embryos, which five days later are inserted into the uterus. "The examination done now depends on the embryologist and isn’t precise. The new test increases the potential for choosing as healthy an embryo as possible," Danai Menuhin says.

The new method may also reduce multi-fetus pregnancies via IVF. Today the practice is to send two embryos into the uterus, which increases the chances of giving birth to twins. In April 2010 the Israeli Fertility Association issued instructions to consider sending only one fetus for women 30 or under during the first IVF cycle, when the embryos are considered of good quality.

But in Israel the practice is to send two, and after three treatments even three, to increase the chances of pregnancy. This option increases the chances for triplets. Israel has an unprecedented IVF policy: public funding for IVF treatments up to the age of 45 and until a second child is born.

"The new algorithm will make it possible to choose the embryo with the highest potential to develop into a healthy infant, and theoretically makes it possible to transfer one embryo with a high potential of achieving pregnancy," Danai Menuhin says.

Another Afeka project, developed by student Hila Lebel under the tutelage of Dr. Vered Aharonson, helps in analyzing sonograms to locate follicles in ovaries of IVF patients. Follicles are structures in which eggs are formed.

The new program makes it possible to locate the number of follicles below 8 millimeters in size. These follicles secrete the hormone AMH, a sign of a woman's fertility.

This project, which is also implemented on Matlab, is designed for doctors, researchers and sonogram technicians in fertility clinics and ob-gyn departments.

A newborn baby.Credit: Dan Keinan

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