‘Next generation’ device could herald breakthrough in prediction of preterm birth

  • Doctors and scientists from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sheffield to use pioneering technology to develop and test new device that could predict onset of premature labour
  •  Small pencil-tip probe detects properties that are known to change in the cervix prior to the onset of premature labour
  • Once tested, all pregnant women could be offered an assessment of their risk of premature labour during their mid-pregnancy anomaly scan, between the 18th and 20th week of pregnancy

A new ‘next generation’ device which could help doctors reliably predict the risk of preterm birth is to be developed by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sheffield thanks to funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Premature baby

Globally around 15 million babies are born prematurely (before 37 weeks) every year – a number which is rising, and complications from preterm birth are the leading cause of death among children under five years of age, responsible for nearly 1 million deaths annually.

Now a team of doctors and scientists from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation trust and the University of Sheffield, who recently showed that women who are at high risk of preterm birth have lower resistance in their cervix in mid-pregnancy than women who deliver at term, have been awarded £792,753 to test a small pencil-tip probe to detect properties that are known to change in the cervix prior to the onset of premature labour.

The device, which was developed and manufactured at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, part of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is a more advanced version of its predecessor. It uses pioneering patented technology involving a novel method of impedance spectroscopy to pick up on changes to the composition and structure of cervical tissue.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is a world-leading centre for impedance spectroscopy, and has been at the forefront of using the technique to study human tissue and make advances in the screening of cervical cancer and mouth cancer.

Once tested, all pregnant women could be offered an assessment of their risk of premature labour during their mid-pregnancy anomaly scan, between the 18th and 20th week of pregnancy.

Professor Dilly Anumba, a Consultant in Obstetrics & Gynaecology at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Sheffield’s Academic Unit of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine, said: “Preterm birth is a huge global problem, and the prediction and prevention of preterm birth remain challenging, because current methods, such as measuring the cervix by ultrasound, have limited accuracy.

"If a technique that reliably predicts preterm birth could be developed, care measures can be employed to delay birth to reduce potential long-term disability and impairment. We know that even if we can delay birth by a number of weeks, we can reduce the risk of more severe outcomes.

"Thanks to NIHR funding, we will now be able to improve on our original promising invention, and build on the world-leading expertise in Sheffield to improve pregnancy and preterm outcomes.”

The first version of the device, which used electrical impedance spectroscopy, was tested on 500 women in a clinical research trial. Up to two hundred women who previously had a preterm birth will take part in the new study employing this innovative technique. The project will commence in January 2017.

The NIHR funding has been awarded to: Professor Dilly Anumba, Academic Unit of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine, Dr Timothy James Healey, Clinical Engineering, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; Professor Simon Dixon, HEDS Group School of Health Related Research (ScHARR); Professor Stephen Walters, ScHARR; Mrs Mags Openshaw, PPI Co-applicant.

Additional information

The University of Sheffield
With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.
A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.
Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.
Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2017 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.
Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.
Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals is one of the UK’s largest NHS Foundation Trusts and one of the largest and busiest teaching hospitals. We have over 16,000 staff caring for over two million patients each year at our five hospitals and in the local community:
• The Royal Hallamshire Hospital
• The Northern General Hospital
• Charles Clifford Dental Hospital
• Weston Park Cancer Hospital
• Jessop Wing Maternity Hospital

We offer a full range of local hospital and community health services for people in Sheffield as well as specialist hospital services to patients from further afield in our many specialist centres. The Trust is recognised internationally for its work in neurosciences, spinal injuries, renal, cancer, transplantation, neurosciences and orthopaedics.

Thanks to the hard work and commitment of our staff and volunteers, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been given an overall rating of ‘Good’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) with many services rated as ‘Outstanding'.

This means the Trust is one of only 18 (out of 174 Trusts) to have achieved a Good rating in every one of the five domains which the Care Quality Commission use to rate a NHS organisation: Safe, Caring, Responsive, Well led, Effective
We are proud to be one of the top 20% of NHS Trusts for patient satisfaction and to have consistently high numbers of our staff and patients who would recommend the Trust for care and as a place to work.
The Trust is a recognised leader in medical research for bone, cardiac, neurosciences and long term conditions such as diabetes and lung disease. We also play a key role in the training and education of medical, nursing and dental students with our academic partners, including the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam. The Trust is a recognised leader in healthcare innovation and is host to a number of national projects including the Perfect Patient Pathway Test Bed, Devices for Dignity, Yorkshire and Humber Genomics Centre as well as being a partner in the Working Together Vanguard and National Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine.
For more information visit: www.sth.nhs.uk

The National Institute for Health Research
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. The NIHR is the research arm of the NHS. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website 

Contact

For further information please contact:

Amy Pullan
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9859
a.l.pullan@sheffield.ac.uk