Pregnancy and childbirth can often result in women suffering from urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
At the University of Auckland’s Bioengineering Institute (ABI), Jenny Kruger has been researching how to help women manage that problem and is now only months away from going to market with a new device that will be a world first.
Jenny, a trained nurse and midwife, did her PhD in childbirth and the elite athlete.
“I was looking at why pelvic floor muscles behave differently in elite athletes and in 2009 I received a two-year Rutherford Fellowship to work at ABI where we developed an elastometer to measure pelvic floor muscles,” says Jenny.
One in three women suffer from incontinence and most of this can be resolved with correct and regular pelvic floor muscle exercise. Research has shown that pelvic floor muscle training is an effective first line treatment for leakage and mild prolapse. However, Jenny says women often don’t know how to do those exercises correctly unless they go to a pelvic floor physio and even then, they often don’t stick to doing them.
A further grant of $300,000 from Julian Robertson’s Aotearoa Foundation enabled Jenny to set up the Pelvic Floor Research Group at the ABI to take her research further.
“This led to us developing a state-of-the-art, custom-designed intra-vaginal pressure sensor array called FemFit®, which sends readings on pelvic muscle strength to a smartphone.” Part of this work was supported through the MedTech CoRE Seed fund.
FemFit® can essentially be “worn” daily, providing data on what’s happening to both abdominal pressure and pelvic floor muscle activation pressures when leakage happens.
Jenny says they can then use this information to develop a customised exercise programme for each woman to fix their particular problem.
FemFit® has been trialled internationally and has been through the necessary phases of clinical trials with women both here and internationally. Jenny describes this as the final stage before going to market, hopefully by the end of 2019.
Jenny’s group is also researching novel techniques such as instrumentation development and computer modelling to develop risk prediction models to help identify women who are more likely to suffer pelvic floor muscle damage during vaginal delivery.
By Prue Scott