Researchers at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development have developed a new imaging technique called electromyometrial imaging (EMMI) which clinicians can use to create 3D maps of uterine contraction patterns during labor. The non-invasive imaging method utilizes rapid MRI scanning with an electromyogram obtained through sensors placed on the skin of the belly. These data are then combined to create 3D maps that reveal how contractions are initiated and spread throughout the uterus. The data will allow researchers to better understand the process of labor and help clinicians to develop personalized interventions and better manage difficult labor.
Giving birth is no walk in the park (so I’ve been told), and increasing our understanding of the mechanics of labor will assist clinicians in developing better approaches to manage labor and avoid safety issues for mother and child. Moreover, gaining a better understanding of uterine contractions could assist clinicians in understanding why things may not be going as planned for a particular patient, and help develop personalized strategies to assist.
“EMMI has the potential to answer critical questions about uterine contractions and will help us better understand what occurs during pregnancy and labor,” said Diana W. Bianchi, a researcher involved in the study. “With additional research, the tool may potentially predict who is at risk to deliver prematurely or whose labor pattern will eventually result in the need for a cesarean section delivery. This will also help care providers evaluate whether a treatment or intervention is working.”
The technology involves first performing a quick MRI scan to image the uterus and then placing multi-channel surface scanning electromyography sensors on the skin of the belly to measure the contraction. When these data are combined, the researchers can create complex 3D maps of uterine contractions. The maps are color-coded such that warmer colors indicate areas of the uterus that are involved in the early phase of a contraction and cooler colors indicate those areas involved later in the contractions.
So far, in tests with healthy women who gave birth, the researchers have been able to devise several metrics that help to describe uterine contractions, and which could help to define or identify issues that can occur during labor. For instance, the maximal activation ratio details the total uterine surface area that is electrically active during each contraction.
Study in journal Nature Communications: Noninvasive electromyometrial imaging of human uterine maturation during term labor