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Challenge Seeks Point-of-Care, Home Maternal Health Technologies

Pregnant woman

(Sergio Santos,, Flickr)

18 Sept. 2023. A crowdsourced competition offered by NIH is seeking new technologies to monitor the health and detect early problems with new babies and their mothers, at the point of care or in the home. The Fetal Monitoring Challenge, conducted under the The Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Technology or RADx Tech program at National Institutes of Health, has a total prize purse of $2 million and an initial proposal deadline of 17 Nov. 2023.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, maternal death rates in the U.S. have risen each year from 17.4 per 100,000 births in 2018 to 32.9 in 2021. Among non-Hispanic Black communities, the rate is more than double, with 69.9 maternal deaths per 100,000 births in 2021. In addition, NIH cites data showing some 2 million stillbirths occur each year worldwide, with 21,000 stillbirths occurring in the U.S., and 40 percent of those deaths taking place after the onset of labor. Nonetheless, says NIH, fetal monitoring is conducted unevenly in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, with few new technologies in development.

The Fetal Monitoring Challenge aims to generate new technologies making it simpler and easier to monitor fetal and maternal health, including in the home, during late pregnancy and delivery. The need is particularly acute in low-resource communities, often with limited access to high-quality prenatal care. Thus, the challenge is looking for devices that provide actionable information at the point of care or at home, and have reasonable prospects for market entry within five years in low-resource areas in the U.S. or worldwide.

Solutions are expected to directly detect or monitor health indicators of a fetus, or abnormalities in the umbilical cord or placenta, as well as be non- or minimally-invasive. Examples of technologies to be considered are wearable devices, diagnostic systems using smartphones or tablets, integrated sensing or imaging, and digital health platforms.

At least working prototypes

Registration opens today with details provided on the Challenge.Gov web site. Participants can enter the competition as members of independent teams or representatives of established institutions, organizations, or businesses. A webinar for entrant prospects is scheduled for 5 Oct., and initial proposals are due 17 Nov. 2023. Proposals are expected to describe technologies that are at least in working prototype stage, with data supporting the device’s operations. Ideas for technologies still in conceptual or design stages will not be accepted. The Point of Care Technology Research Network is taking registrations and entries, and managing the challenge for NIH.

The challenge’s initial proposals will be judged during November and December 2023, with the first round of up to 10 semi-finalists announced in mid-December. The second phase of the competition takes place in January and February 2024, with up to six finalists expected by March 2024. From the finalists, the first three place winners and runners-up will be announced by October 2024. Each of the semi-finalists receives $5,000 while each finalist gains $75,000. First, second, and third place winners receive $750,000, $400,000, and $200,000 respectively, and runners-up each win $50,000.

“By bringing attention to an unacceptable state of care,” says Bruce Tromberg, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering or NIBIB, in an institute statement, “we hope to inspire innovators to engineer solutions for accurate, cost-effective, and safe fetal monitoring and diagnostic approaches. The goal is safer birth outcomes, focusing on the health of the fetus in the latter stages of pregnancy, when easy-to-use technologies might detect the need for specific medical care.” NIBIB is sponsoring the challenge with National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, also part of NIH, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

NIH began the RADx Tech program in April 2020 to jump-start development of new point-of-care and home-based tests for Covid-19 infections. Science & Enterprise reported on the start of the initiative, and several products and services spawned by the program, most recently in July 2023 — funding of a combined one-time test for flu, Covid-19, and respiratory syncytial virus or RSV infections done at home.

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