most significant bits
newsletter of uw computer science & engineering
volume 20, number 2, winter 2011
university of washington
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 home CSE Home    MSB archive Winter 2011 MSB    MSB Archive   Contact Info Contact Info 
Center for Game Science Chair's message Mobile midwives ultrasound News Josh Smith joins CSE & EE Ed Felten named to FTC Datagrams Introducing Ms. Sprocket Awards IEEE fellows CRA recognizes undergrads Events Larry Snyder's swansong Annual Industrial Affiliates Distinguished Lecturers Annual pumpkin carving Bay Area alumni event
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Editor: Kay Beck-Benton
Contributors: Ed Lazowska, Hank Levy, Sandy Marvinney
Photo credits: Bruce Hemingway, Mary Levin

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Mobile Midwives’ Ultrasound Project

ultrasound interface
The team designed a simple interface specifically
for midwives. Five slider bars adjust the image
settings; four buttons control other functions, such
as freezing the image or accessing the main menu.

Every day 1,500 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications, and 99% of all maternal deaths occur in the developing world. World Health Organization (WHO) estimates for 2008 indicate that women in developing regions had an estimated 1 in 120 chance of maternal death in their lifetime, compared to 1 in 4,300 for developed regions. Many of these deaths could be prevented by the use of ultrasound to identify problems prior to delivery. If potential pregnancy complications are detected early, mothers have improved opportunities to seek proper medical care at appropriate facilities. Ultrasound imaging is an effective tool for identifying maternal mortality risk factors. Unfortunately, ultrasound is nearly absent in many rural healthcare facilities in developing regions due to the high costs of both equipment and required training.

Computer Science & Engineering joined with Human-Centered Design and Engineering to offer a year-long senior undergraduate capstone design course on "Designing Technology for Resource-Constrained Environments." (This is the third year that the departments worked together on this senior capstone course.) As one of the projects this past year, a group of students worked to develop a low-cost, easy-to-use portable ultrasound system for midwives that will be field-tested in Uganda — the Midwives' Ultrasound Project.

To leverage existing healthcare systems commonly found in these contexts, the team focused their efforts on increasing the diagnostic capabilities of midwives — often central medical figures in rural and low-income communities — and creating a user interface that was most attuned to their needs and capabilities. The group put together a low-cost portable ultrasound platform from off-the-shelf components consisting of a USB ultrasound probe (from Interson with software drivers provided by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis) and a touch-screen netbook for a total cost of around USD3500. Compared to currently available ultrasound devices, they greatly simplified the user interface while maintaining functionality to allow midwives to detect three common obstetrical conditions: placenta previa, multiple gestations, and breech presentation. To evaluate their solution, they tested the accuracy of ultrasound measurements, image quality, and whether midwives could properly use the device for diagnosis. Testing performed by nine clinicians indicated the platform would be appropriate for identifying these three conditions. The modular design approach allows for easy modification, and the device is designed to utilize existing local healthcare resources, namely midwives rather than ultrasound specialists, in order to create a sustainable solution that does not depend on continuous foreign assistance.

The project team includes Waylon Brunette (CSE), Wayne Gerard (CSE), Matthew Hicks (iSchool), Alexis Hope (HCDE), Mitchell Ishimitsu (CSE), Pratik Prasad (CSE), Ruth Anderson (CSE), Gaetano Borriello (CSE), Beth Kolko (HCDE), and Rob Nathan (UW Radiology). Initial project funding came from a $2,500 undergraduate research award from the College of Engineering. Learn more about the Midwives' Ultrasound Project by viewing this video:

In October 2010, the midwives' ultrasound project was granted a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation $100,000 Grand Challenges Exploration Grant — an initiative to help scientists around the world explore bold and largely unproven ways to improve health in developing countries. To receive funding, applicants show in a two-page application how their idea falls outside current scientific paradigms and might lead to significant advances in global health. Grantees, chosen from more than 2,400 proposals, represent 16 countries on five continents.

The UW students and faculty are testing their low-cost ultrasound platform this month on pregnant women at the UW Medical Center and Harborview. They will use the grant to travel to Uganda to test their system in its ultimate capacity as a tool to increase access to ultrasound and lower childbirth-related mortality in rural developing world communities. Learn about Change, the cross-campus collaboration under which dozens of remarkable projects such as this take place, at:

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