The timing of birth is crucial to reproduction. Up to 13% of babies are born prematurely at annual costs to the National Health Service of £1 billion more, and 10-fold higher, than for term babies. Preterm birth (PTB) also accounts for the majority of deaths of structurally normal babies, and one out of every 4 babies born before 28 weeks suffers handicap, with socio-economic burdens on families, many parents often having to give up work to care for their child. Prevention of PTB is limited by lack of accurate prediction of risk. Our group has been exploring the technique Electrical Impedance Spectroscopy (EIS) for assessing cervical tissue composition by recording its electrical "resistivity" - cervical impedance - to the injection of a small electrical current. Our thinking is that if we can detect the changes in the cervix several months before labour starts we can predict women who will deliver prematurely.
Our preliminary studies have shown that women at high risk of premature birth (because they have had premature births before), may have lower cervical impedance between 20 and 28 weeks than those who do not. Our current studies (ECCLIPPxTM) are aimed at confirming these preliminary findings by larger studies. We have improved the Sheffield EIS device and are currently studying various groups of pregnant women. We aim to determine whether EIS will improve our ability to predict, prevent, and treat preterm labour and birth, by comparing it to current screening methods such as the fibronectin swab test and ultrasound scans of the cervix. We will also undertake some preliminary cost analysis of EIS compared to standard current care.