ESA Technology Transfer Success Story - Dry electrodes to monitor vital signs: From astronauts in space to foetuses in utero [Aug/2022]
Dry electrode technology, initially designed by Swiss organisation CSEM to monitor ESA astronauts’ health whilst floating in microgravity (LTMS system), allows foetal cardiologists to isolate and continuously monitor a foetal heartbeat on an electrocardiogram (ECG). CSEM saw an opportunity to develop a technology (Electronic Foetal Monitoring Systemc - ELAINE) using the dry electrodes that would provide a more comfortable wireless solution, using ECG technology rather than CTG’s ultrasound solution.
Under ESA contract, CSEM developed the LTMS system, designed to monitor astronauts’ vital signs using an easy to wear vest fitted with three dry electrodes. This same technology is now being applied to foetal monitoring. Before labour, it may be necessary to monitor the foetus’ heartbeat for any irregularities, whereas during labour it is recommended to perform regular monitoring of the foetal cardiac activity.
ELAINE may have the potential to supplement or replace classical CTG machines in a hospital setting, but furthermore, this technology could also pave the way for high-accuracy, at-home foetal monitoring. CSEM are developing a portable device which could be used by women at home to monitor their baby using a mobile phone app. Doctors could remotely monitor the foetus and call mothers in to the hospital only when abnormalities are detected.
Offering a solution based on the ELAINE system will also position them to offer a new product within the telehealth market, which is expected to reach €190 billion globally by 2025. Through the collaboration of CSEM and its partnering SME, there will also be potential revenue streams bringing economic growth:
- For CSEM: a licensing scheme on the hardware and/or the algorithm.
- For the SME: Selling the device as a standalone hardware; subscription service for enhanced data analytics, usage of data acquired from patients in research studies with hospitals.
An increase in home monitoring by the patient means fewer hospital visits, shorter stays at the hospital, and a decreased risk of exposure of the patient to diseases such as COVID-19. A reliable home monitoring solution where the mother can do a simple check of the foetal heartbeat in order to alleviate some of their concerns could decrease the number of times she would have to go in-person to the hospital. It also has the potential to decrease the length of time a woman would have to remain at a hospital for monitoring purposes. Using dry electrodes for ECG in foetal heart monitoring has the potential to be a wide-reaching supplementary solution in 2-3 years, and a possible replacement method within 10 years. ELAINE can provide additional supplementary monitoring solutions for pregnancies displaying foetal arrythmia, which account for 1-2% of all pregnancies, and 10-20% of all referrals to foetal cardiologists.
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This initiative is led by ESA's Technology Transfer and Patent Management Unit (TTPO) in ESA's Directorate for Commercialisation, Industry & Procurement. The Unit is guiding start-ups, entrepreneurs and European businesses in developing spin-offs for ESA's space technologies. More recent successful transfers can be accessed at: Technology Transfer - Funded Projects. For more information, please contact email@example.com.