A TEAM of university researchers has become one of the first in UK academia to seek non-traditional funding in a bid to commercialise a new medical device.
The group has turned to a “blend” of sources that includes JustGiving, the online charity fundraising platform, to pave the way to mass production of an instrument to ease childbirth in water. Water births are said to provide more comfort with less drug-induced pain relief.
Led by Fiona Denison at the University of Edinburgh’s Tommy’s Centre, the team includes Loughborough and Heriot-Watt universities, as well as input from midwives at the NHS Lothian Birth Centre. They have developed the Easily Adjustable Submersible Illuminated (EASI) birth mirror, which can be used underwater when a baby is born.
About 48,000 women in the UK have a water birth every year. Midwives must currently bend over the side of a pool with a mirror in one hand and a torch in the other to look for the baby’s head crowning, which is when they begin to assist in delivery.
Though researchers say this approach is safe, the EASI mirror would improve the process for midwives, who must often hold an awkward bent position for an extended period of time.
“It is not very good for the midwives – certainly not very good for their backs – and also it can be quite intrusive for the women,” Denison said.
“We believe that our tool addresses an unmet clinical need and will help both mothers having water births and midwives who care for them. This prototype has been designed by midwives, for midwives.”
Sheonagh Brook-Smith, lead midwife for the Lothian Birth Centre, said the new tool would help create the relaxed and calm atmosphere needed when a woman is in labour.
“Sometimes as a midwife you feel like you need to disrupt this to try and gain a clear view,” she said. “My colleagues and I are excited about the prospect of an instrument that gives you a clear picture of what’s happening without interruption.”
The mirror has been developed to prototype level by engineers at Heriot-Watt, but now needs to be produced on a larger scale for further testing.
“We are in discussions with external companies about how we could manufacture these in the commercial context, rather than in an academic setting,” Denison said.
The group is drawing up a shortlist of potential manufacturing partners, and aims to make a decision within the next few weeks. The amount they are looking to raise will depend on what kind of manufacturing they choose, though Denison estimates funding in the region of £50,000 to £60,000 will be required.