A new device developed to detect elevated levels of hypoxanthine (a chemical) can alert physicians about oxygen deprivation in a baby during childbirth. This finding is hoped to reduce the number of Caesareans being performed, as any suspicion of oxygen deprivation is a strong indication for the surgery.
The medical device, developed by researchers at Warwick University has been named the Warwick probe. The researchers have stated that more work is necessary before commercial use of the device by maternity hospitals.
Oxygen deprivation affects 1 in nearly 1000 babies and poses a serious risk of brain damage if unattended. Currently, there are no reliable tests that provide useful clinical information about fetal hypoxia or oxygen deprivation with a good specificity, necessitating the need for novel techniques.
As a consequence, a baby perceived to be at risk is being delivered through a C-section (that can be avoided) and are additionally subjected to head cooling treatment to minimize the associated risk.
It has been known from previous studies that elevated hypoxanthine levels could serve as an indicator of the underlying oxygen starvation. An elevation greater than 5 mmol can indicate a severe level of risk to the fetus. Based on this, observation, Professor Nick Dale, a neuroscientist has developed a probe with an inbuilt biosensor than can reveal hypoxanthine levels in blood taken from the baby's scalp, while still in utero.
An enzyme capable of metabolizing hypoxanthine is incorporated into the sensor as well. Human clinical trials of the biochemical probe is expected to be launched soon. Discussions have already been initiated with Sarissa Biomedical Ltd, regarding further direction of the biochemical sensor project.
If promising results are obtained, then doctors could soon have a medical device that can help parents take informed decisions about willingness for a Caesarean.