Researchers at the McKelvey School of Engineering and the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis have partnered to launch the Women's Health Technologies Initiative, which aims to apply engineering technology to develop new strategies to improve the detection, diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the female reproductive system.

The initiative was launched following a successful symposium in January 2020, which was organized by Quing Zhu, the Edwin H. Murty Professor at McKelvey Engineering, and Yong Wang, associate professor of obstetrics & gynecology in the School of Medicine and of electrical & systems engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering. Researchers were invited to talk about their work in fertility, monitoring cervical health, progression of labor and post-partum outcomes.

“I have been working on breast and ovarian cancer research for the past two decades and always have a passion to improve women’s health,” Zhu said. “My goal is to promote collaboration between clinical and non-clinical researchers and engineers to work on women’s health issues with the hope of elevating the importance of women’s health research at WashU and at NIH.”

In March 2020, the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology launched the Collaboration Initiation Grants, which are small seed grants of up to $20,000 for one year in support of research. The goal of these grants is to generate sustaining collaboration between engineering and medical school partners that will be competitive for future external funding.

Inaugural recipients of the grant are Christine O’Brien, instructor of radiology in the university’s Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology; Antonina Frolova, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics & gynecology; and Jerry Lowder, MD, associate professor of obstetrics & gynecology, all in the School of Medicine; and Philip Bayly, the Lee Hunter Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science in McKelvey Engineering.

O’Brien and Frolova are collaborating on developing a wearable light-based sensor that will provide an early alert for postpartum hemorrhage, and Bayly and Lowder are devising a new prediction model to guide surgical decision making in female pelvic organ prolapse surgery based on anatomic measurements.

Along with the grants, the team is continuing with events organized by faculty in McKelvey Engineering and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The Department of Biomedical Engineering also has designated women’s health research as a distinct focus area to attract new students interested in researching the topic.

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