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Blog: Revolutionary technique using 3D printing and sound waves to measure intrauterine pressure

15 Jun 2023

In a breakthrough resulting from the collaboration between Professor Khamis Essa, Professor of Digital Manufacturing at Birmingham University and Dr Hashem Elhossamy, a consultant of obstetrics and gynaecology at The Dudley Group NHS Trust, a study has indicated the possibility of remotely diagnosing labour in the future. Here Dr Hashem Elhossamy explains the possibility of using 3D printing and sound waves to measure intrauterine pressure.

If we told anyone in the past century that we can see inside the womb, they wouldn’t have believed us – but, nowadays, it is done every day across the world through ultrasound scanning. That was a breakthrough in the history of medicine. What if the next breakthrough involves sound rather than ultrasound waves? We use and generate sound a lot more easily and cheaply than ultrasound and can use it in new ways.

A new technique for diagnosing labour

Diagnosing labour is a vital part of the safe delivery of a child. There is no universally accepted definition of labour, but a commonly used definition is having 3 strong contractions that last for a minute within 10 minutes.

We explored a pioneering technique to allow expectant mothers to measure pressure inside the womb (intra-uterine pressure) with the help of their smartphones, thus using this to diagnose contractions and labour. Our research is at an experimental stage, but showed the potential to eliminate the need for medical professionals, either doctors or midwives, during the early stages of labour, whether in a hospital or at home.

This could be used to diagnose labour without touching the patient, making it completely non-invasive. This revolutionary approach would not only reduce the risk of infection and patient discomfort but also slash costs associated with hospital visits and unnecessary admissions: a win-win situation.

 Another potential use for the device would be diagnosing and monitoring intra-uterine pressure in cases of increased or decreased liquid surrounding the baby, and making it possible for this to be done at home. This would, eliminate the need for expensive ultrasound machines or any complicated training.

Our findings

Several experiments were carried out using a three-dimensional (3D) printed 50% scale model of an average 40-week pregnant woman’s abdomen. The 3D printed skin was filled with water then sound waves were blasted at varying distances.

The results revealed a positive linear relationship between the sound reflection and the internal pressure. This proves that every time the pressure increases, the sound reflection is of a different value, indicating that the concept is feasible.

Looking ahead

As we look ahead to a future where technology intertwines seamlessly with healthcare, the advent of diagnosing labour through smartphone-generated sound waves could represent a significant advance in maternal care.

The potential applications of this technique are truly game-changing. A smartphone app emitting sound waves and measuring their reflections to gauge intrauterine pressure empower women to self-monitor various scenarios, including diagnosing labour at home without the need for vaginal or abdominal examination.

Moreover, it has the potential to aid in the diagnosis of preterm labour, as well as the monitoring, diagnosing and monitoring amount of liquid around the baby. The cost savings for the healthcare system, by reducing unnecessary hospital visits and midwife reviews, could prove invaluable, especially during times when healthcare services are stretched thin.

What does this mean?

In summary, this ground-breaking technique, which combines the power of 3D printing and sound waves, promises a new era of convenience, safety, and autonomy for expectant mothers. With the potential to transform the way labour is diagnosed and monitored, this remarkable innovation could make a significant impact on maternal healthcare.

While this investigation represents a proof of concept, the possibilities for further development and integration are truly exciting. The potential to extend this technology to encompass other aspects of maternal health and remote monitoring is significant.

The potential savings in resources, and the ability to allocate them to critical cases, could profoundly impact the efficiency and quality of obstetric care.

For more information on the study please contact:



From the Dudley group NHS trust:

  • Dr Hashem Elhossamy, Consultant of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

From University of Birmingham:

Department of Mechanical Engineering & Digital Manufacturing

  • Professor Khamis Essa, Professor in Digital Manufacturing at the University of Birmingham 
  • Mr Benjamin Alderson
  • Dr Adel Abdelwahab
  • Clinical and research
  • Pregnancy and birth