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Study Shows Potential for Reducing Preterm and Late-Term Pregnancy Complications

Study Shows Potential for Reducing Preterm and Late-Term Pregnancy Complications

By Susan Gagnier

Jan 9, 2017

Updated Jul 7, 2023

5 min read


According to the World Health Organization, “every year, an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm (before 37 completed weeks of gestation).” “Preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death among children under 5 years of age. However, three-quarters of them could be saved with current, cost-effective interventions.”

The Imaging tool is noninvasive and produces highly sensitive ultrasound waves that detect structural changes in the uterine cervix tissue. The tool measures cervical stiffness/softness associated with various stages in pregnancy. Cervical softening (ripening), is a key indicator that the body is preparing for labor and delivery, and is required for cervical dilation, labor, and birth. Therefore, cervical softening early in the pregnancy could indicate preterm birth risk.

Lindsey C. Drehfal, MS, Lead Researcher at Intermountain, has a goal to reduce pregnancy risks through her research. Her aim is to discover patient-centered medical breakthroughs that translate into better patient outcomes.

“I’m very passionate about taking part in the creation of technology that has a direct impact on the improvement of patient care. It is so rewarding interacting with patients and clinical staff” says Lindsey. “And I’m truly grateful for the opportunities and support given to me from the Intermountain Medical Research Foundation and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the pursuit of maternal fetal medicine research.”

Shear Wave Elasticity Imaging produces measurements based on fact (objective quantification) which have proven to be more effective in describing tissue softness than other methods in both early and late-term pregnancy. On the other hand, more traditional methods such as Transvaginal Ultrasound are subjective, have limited sensitivity, and are not useful for predicting the success of induction of labor in term pregnancies.

Helen Feltovich, MD, of Intermountain Utah Valley Hospital, anticipates shear wave speed will be used to monitor changes throughout the term of a pregnancy and ultimately result in reducing pregnancy risk to both mother and baby. 

“Throughout the course of the in vivo study we compared changes in the cervix in early (first trimester) versus late (third trimester) pregnancy”, says Dr. Feltovich. “The results of the study indicate a significant difference between first and third trimester shear wave speed estimates and indicate the potential for applications in preterm birth in the future.”

Lindsey was invited this fall to share the results of this significant study at the International Tissue Elasticity Conference. There, she was awarded the “best presenter award.” This scientific conference provides an international forum for the advancement of knowledge and methods for the measurement and imaging of the elastic attributes of soft tissues by ultrasound.

The cause of preterm and late-term births is complex, and poorly understood.  At Intermountain Healthcare we will continue to to study the link of cervical elasticity to preterm and late-term births to further reduce pregnancy risk and deliver the high quality care to our patients.

Intermountain Healthcare study: Shear wave speed estimation comparison of early and late pregnancy in the in vivo uterine cervix.

Study authors: Lindsey C. Drehfal, MS; Helen Feltovich, MD; Ivan Rosado-Mendez, MS, PhD; Mark L. Palmeri; M. Sean Esplin, MD, Timothy J. Hall.

Acknowledgements: The study was supported by National Institutes of Health grants T32CA009206 from the National Cancer Institute and F31HD082911 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and Intermountain Research and Medical Foundation. We are also grateful to Siemens Healthcare Ultrasound division for equipment loan and support.

To find out more about Intermountain Healthcare Research and the advancement of medical knowledge in many clinical areas visit