UmbiflowTM: A low cost device that could save a baby's life

The UmbiflowTM is a portable, continuous-wave Doppler ultrasound device that was developed in South Africa and costs about one-tenth of a conventional ultrasound device. All healthcare workers, including nurses, can be trained relatively quickly to operate it.

Researchers
  • Dr Helen Mulol
Dr Helen Mulol works at the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Research Centre for Maternal, Fetal, Newborn and Child Health Care Strategies. She is the Principal Investigator and Study Coordinator of the UmbiBaby study, which is following up on the babies from the South African site of the UmbiflowTM international study. Sponsored by the World Health Organisation, this study used the innovative low-cost UmbiflowTM device to screen for in utero growth restriction due to placental insufficiency.

Dr Mulol obtained an MSc in Analytical Chemistry and a PhD in Paediatrics (2016) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). For her doctoral research, she conducted a longitudinal study of breastfeeding infants in the first year of life. Dr Mulol strongly advocates exclusive breastfeeding, having come to realise the powerful properties of breast milk through her research. Breast milk changes its composition according to a mother’s diet and to the infant’s age; it also has immune-boosting properties. This is vastly different to baby formula found on supermarket shelves which does not change in any way.

She utilised an objective method during her research to determine how much breast milk mothers were giving their infants at five time points in the first year of life and whether they were exclusively breastfeeding in the first six months of life. The samples generated from these studies are measured using an analytical chemistry method.

Dr Mulol received a scholarship from the International Atomic Energy Agency for her PhD studies. The agency, which is part of the United Nations and based in Vienna, Austria, promotes the use of stable isotopes in fields such as nutrition.

After completing her PhD, Dr Mulol became involved at UKZN in coordinating another longitudinal study. This study investigated the likelihood of HIV-exposed, uninfected infants needing a daily dose of CTX, an antibiotic, by looking primarily at the health outcomes of those who received the antibiotic and those who didn’t.
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  • Professor Ute Feucht
Professor Ute Feucht is the Director of the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Research Centre for Maternal, Fetal, Newborn and Child Health Care Strategies and of the South African Medical Research Council’s Maternal and Infant Health Care Strategies Unit, which is based at UP.

Prof Feucht has a joint appointment in Gauteng, where she works as a paediatrician as part of the Tshwane District Clinical Specialist Team, a multi-disciplinary unit of specialists tasked with improving maternal and child health services, and outcomes at district level.

She graduated in 1995 with a degree in Medicine (cum laude) from Stellenbosch University and specialised in Paediatrics at UP, before obtaining her PhD in Paediatrics at Stellenbosch University.

Prof Feucht’s research addresses broad questions of child health, with a focus on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, paediatric HIV treatment and care, childhood nutrition and growth, and improving childhood morbidity and mortality. She also works on the development of data systems to improve clinical care and monitor health outcomes. Much of her work is informed by the “survive, thrive, transform” principle, with the ultimate goal of improving the outcomes of children and their families within the communities she works in, in South Africa and beyond.

The work of UP’s Research Centre for Maternal, Infant and Child Health Care Strategies is a collaboration between Obstetrics, Paediatrics, Nutrition, Immunology and Health Care Provision, with a strong nation-wide implementation and research footprint. The centre also works very closely with national and provincial departments of health.
The centre aims to be a leader in the field of perinatal healthcare by improving the neurodevelopment of children and seeking saleable, sustainable solutions to prevent maternal, foetal, newborn and child morbidity and mortality in the primary and secondary levels of care.

Being part of the Umbiflow research team has been a recent research highlight for Prof Feucht. The obstetric section of this work has shown the UmbiflowTM device – a continuous-wave Doppler ultrasound – to be a groundbreaking innovation in the detection and prevention of foetuses that are at risk of stillbirth. A pilot study has been established in nine sites in South Africa. The extension of this work into the paediatric and nutrition fields has highlighted the ability of this device to detect previously undetected in utero growth restriction and has introduced a new, exciting field of research.

• NRF rating: C2
• Research Gate profile: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ute-Feucht


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