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The University of Southampton
Institute for Life Sciences

National funding for Southampton interdisciplinary research to help couples with fertility problems

Published: 9 March 2017
Prof Morgan & Prof Cheong
Prof Morgan & Prof Cheong in the Centre for Hybrid Biodevices

Interdisciplinary research by the University of Southampton’s Institute for Life Science (IfLS) could increase the chances of couples with fertility problems becoming pregnant, with the award of National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funding.

Academics from Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) and Medicine at Southampton have been developing a small, implantable, batteryless sensor that can help understand and improve fertility.

The device is placed inside the womb and measures the temperature, oxygen and pH levels, helping inform doctors if the womb environment is right to accept a fertilised embryo.

Professor Hywel Morgan, Deputy Director of the IfLS and a Professor of Bioelectronics in ECS, said: “The environment that the womb provides to the embryo is crucial for successful implantations in In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).”

Hywel has been working with colleague Dr Ying Cheong, Professor and Honorary Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Subspecialist in Reproductive Medicine and Surgery, in Medicine; and Clinical Director of the Complete Fertility Centre at Southampton’s Princess Anne Hospital, on the USENSE project.

Together the pair have driven forward research in this area of reproductive medicine engineering and the award of £845,000 by the NIHR Invention for Innovation (i4i) fund will see their work being further translated from the clinic to the patient.

Currently one in six couples in the UK have problems becoming pregnant and in a quarter of these couples no abnormality is found.

“In many cases the womb is likely to be the key cause but, at present, there are no reliable tests available to assess this,” said Ying.

“Doctors know that there are three key parameters that determine whether an embryo can develop – oxygen, temperature and pH levels. Our new technology will continuously monitor all of these parameters. It is powered by a belt and the data is recorded on a mobile phone through an app,” she added.

The team has already tested a temperature-measuring device on 15 women and is now working with the University of Southampton spin-out company VivoPlex. The i4i funding will allow them to develop a complete integrated sensor and test it on a group of women diagnosed with unexplained subfertility and another group of women with normal fertility.

“We will explore the value of this product for these women and start to look for differences in the womb measurements between the two groups,” said Hywel.

I4i provides funding to facilitate the advance of healthcare technologies and interventions for increased patient benefit in areas of existing or emerging clinical need.

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Notes for editors

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. The NIHR is the research arm of the NHS. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website


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