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Improving health of mothers, infants aim of imaging tech to monitor contractions

NIH and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation fund more than $6.8 million toward effort

by Kristina SauerweinJanuary 10, 2022

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Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have received three grants totaling more than $6.8 million to advance research on a novel imaging system to monitor uterine contractions.

The electromyometrial imaging system, called EMMI, was invented and developed at Washington University. The device allows physicians to measure, in 3D, the electrical activity of a patient’s uterine contractions during labor. Such details can help scientists and physicians identify practices to monitor labor status and prevent preterm births, the world’s leading cause of death in children under age 5. Measuring contractions associated with pregnancy and the menstrual cycle also ideally will help safeguard women’s health.


Yong Wang, PhD, an associate professor of obstetrics & gynecology, is the leading principal investigator of a new grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The five-year grant will support efforts to build a “normal term uterine contraction atlas” to help predict labor arrest and dysfunction. The researchers aim to provide a foundation for future clinical trials involving monitoring labor progression and testing interventions to prevent labor complications such as preterm birth and postpartum bleeding.

Wang also received two research grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. One is to help develop a portable, bedside EMMI system suitable for multisite clinical trials and commercialization. The other grant will support EMMI’s novel applications to image and understand the role of uterine contractions associated with different phases of the menstrual cycle, with the goal of learning more about abnormal uterine bleeding related to ovulation dysfunction and infertility.

“The uterus is unlike every other organ because it functions in vastly different manners during different times during a female’s life,” said Wang, also an associate professor of electrical & systems engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering. “Understanding how the uterus can undergo such changes can help us to determine potential problems during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and labor. Similar to how cardiologists treat cardiac disorders, we envision using EMMI to guide the electrical pacing or noninvasive modification of malfunctioning uterine tissue to restore normal uterine functions.”

The EMMI technology has resulted from a collaboration between researchers in the university’s Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, the Preston M. Green Department of Electrical & Systems Engineering, the Department of Pediatrics, and Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 1,700 faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is a leader in medical research, teaching and patient care, and is among the top recipients of research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Kristina covers pediatrics, surgery, medical education and student life. In 2020, she received a gold Robert G. Fenley Writing Award for general staff writing from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and in 2019, she received the silver award. Kristina is an author and former reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Los Angeles Times, where she was part of a team of journalists that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for breaking news. Additionally, she covered the 2014 Ferguson unrest for TIME magazine and, for eight years, wrote a popular parenting column for