/  March 7, 2017

Improving fetal health monitoring to prevent brain injuries and reduce C-sections

For expectant parents, to hear their baby’s heartbeat for the first time is a magical moment. For Martin Frasch, the sound of an unborn baby’s heart is potentially full of unmined data. Frasch is a research assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. As part of his research, he is developing new, non-invasive ways to monitor fetal health, and in so doing detect early signs of fetal distress, all with an eye to preventing brain injuries.

Frasch’s idea is to listen to the baby’s heart during labor. The technology to monitor fetal heart rates in these final hours, he says, has not changed appreciably since the 1980s. In part because of this, the rate of caesarean sections has increased in recent years. “Fifty percent of those are done out of caution, but evidence is emerging that not only is the C-section not good for the baby, it isn’t great for the mother either,” Frasch says. “Having a more effective way to monitor fetal health could reduce the need for unnecessary C-sections.”

Now, Frasch has received institutional approval to develop just such a method. This year, he will start a human fetal electroencephalogram (EEG) clinical trial. He will look for links between fetal heart rate and brain activity—links that could help catch potential problems earlier than more invasive traditional methods, such as drawing blood from the umbilical cord. “I hope to show that we can have a more precise determination of when the baby’s health might be at risk,” he says.

Originally from Germany, Frasch completed both his MD and a PhD in pathophysiology at Friedrich Schiller University. Afterwards, he started postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Western Ontario, in Canada. (“They have the same colors as the University of Washington,” he says. “Perhaps it is fate.”) Since coming to the University of Washington a little over a year ago, Frasch has engaged with CoMotion to move his work along. He has connected with advisors, and gotten advice on intellectual property and related matters. He also took part in the “Idea to Plan” workshop that CoMotion runs which helps lay a business planning foundation for innovators to move their concept towards commercialization.

“CoMotion has been a big help in just a short time,” Frasch says. “I’m looking forward to working with them more as this all progresses.”