A new and innovative way to prevent preterm labor is now being developed by a team of scientists.
Associate Professor James Olcese is developing goggles - he's calling them light emitting devices - that could intermittently flash a blue light at a sleeping pregnant mother at risk for preterm labor.
That flash of light could cause a drop in the brain hormone melatonin, which is tied to contractions.
Ideally, the contractions would slow down or stop.
In 2009, Olcese discovered that many women go into labor at night when melatonin is at its peak. Future research through a partnership with preterm labor patients at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital found that when women were exposed to bright light overnight, the cells associated with contractions saw a drop in melatonin levels, suppressing contractions and potentially delaying labor.
Olcese patented his theory that reducing melatonin would produce better results for women at risk of preterm labor.
In the study at TMH, the patients were exposed to a computer-monitor-sized lamp shining full-spectrum light. But, that interrupted sleeping patterns and was generally uncomfortable for some participants.
So Olcese, a recent winner of a $35,000 GAP award from the university, is working to develop a pair goggles that will flash blue light. Preterm birth is the birth of an infant prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Thirty-five percent of infant deaths are associated with preterm labor.