According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 15 million babies are born too early every year – that is more than 1 in 10 babies. Almost 1 million children die each year due to complications of preterm birth. Many survivors face a lifetime of disability, including learning disabilities and visual and hearing problems. Dr. Feltovich is trying to change that statistic through her research into preterm labor.
Her situation is unique because Intermountain gives her time to pursue her research while maintaining her private practice. Because of that support, and the hard work of other physicists and researchers, Dr. Feltovich has developed ultrasound technology to measure tiny changes in a woman’s cervix that lead to labor.
Research has shown that if a woman’s cervix is shorter than usual at 20 weeks of pregnancy, her risk for preterm labor increases. In most cases, though, a short cervix alone does not result in a premature birth. But if a woman’s cervix is short and soft, preterm labor is a much higher risk.
After measuring the length of the cervix, Dr. Feltovich uses a tiny transducer to send sound waves into the tissue of the cervix to measure its softness and collagen organization. Understanding normal and abnormal changes in the cervix throughout pregnancy may one day allow doctors to predict when women will go into preterm labor.
“If we can understand the changes that lead to shortening at the molecular level, we can develop remedies to prevent preterm labor,” says Dr. Feltovich.
Through the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth, Dr. Feltovich trains midwives in places like Bangladesh to use the tiny transducer, which as a portable imaging device, detects gestational age and placement of the placenta. The device is intuitive and requires no image interpretation, and works well for many of the midwives, who prefer a more hands-on approach and are not entirely comfortable with testing equipment.
Dr. Feltovich will continue her research at Intermountain, working with engineers, physicists and scientists to study patterns at the molecular level in an effort to first understand, and ultimately prevent preterm labor.
“Intermountain is special,” says Dr. Feltovich. “As universities around the country run out of funding for medical research, Intermountain is one of the few private institutions stepping in to fill the gap. They are remarkably supportive of my research, giving me the time and support I need, while allowing me to continue having a private practice.”
Click here to view a video about Dr. Feltovich’s work in maternal-fetal medicine.