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Hohenstein’s ARTUS artificial uterus wins Techtextil Innovation Award 2015

ARTUS can recreate the environment and sensory stimulation of a mother's womb in the incubator, according to a team of scientists.

12th May 2015

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Boennigheim


The jury at the Techtextil Innovation Awards 2015 have awarded ARTUS, the ARTificial UteruS, developed by a team of experts at the Hohenstein Institute, a prize in the New Application category. The world's first artificial uterus was designed to help premature babies to develop by providing sensory stimulation.

With this smart textile, the Hohenstein researches are for the first time taking a new therapeutic approach to preventing developmental problems in premature babies by sensory-motor means.

To put the product concept into practice, the researchers led by Prof Dirk Höfer are working with partners from the industry, including Beluga-Tauchsport (Scheeßel), Global Safety Textiles (Maulburg) and M. Zellner (Michelau in Upper Franconia).

Recreating the environment

About 50,000 premature babies are born every year in Germany alone. Some of them need intensive medical care in incubators for weeks or even months. However, it has been known for some time that these premature babies miss the spatial confinement and prenatal sensory stimuli of the womb (uterus), the Institute reports.

This lack can have significant consequences for these babies later on: many of the children go on to suffer from sensory or motor deficiencies as they develop, which have to be treated.

Until now, incubators have not been able to compensate for the lack of spatial confinement and sensory stimuli provided by the mother's womb. © Tobilander -

ARTUS can recreate the environment and sensory stimulation of a mother's womb in the incubator, according to a team of scientists. As part of a research project, the Hohenstein researchers have developed their first prototype. Acoustic stimuli like the mother's heartbeat and voice are transmitted to the premature baby, together with mechanical sensations like the gentle rocking experienced in the mother's body.

Effectiveness of ARTUS

Neonatologists, i.e. specialists in newborn and premature babies, are currently assessing the effectiveness of ARTUS for tiny babies by observing it in use. The aim is to improve the clinical well-being of the little patients.

Scientists at the Hohenstein Institute are working with project partners from industry to develop a system providing the kind of therapy that will give premature babies in incubators the same sensory stimuli and sense of security that they experience in their mother's womb. © Hohenstein Institute

This can be assessed in a standardised way by using stress measurements, including what is called the Apgar score. Five components – heart rate, respiration, response to touch, muscle tone and skin colour – are measured at regular intervals and, depending on the result, given a score for each.

Condition improvement

Project leader Prof Dr Dirk Höfer of the Hohenstein Institute believes that using ARTUS will allow the clinical condition of premature babies to be significantly improved.

“In the first stage, however, we will be satisfied if we can just see a general improvement in the condition of the babies under observation. The functionality of our prototypes also needs to be optimised and modified for use in everyday clinical practice before the product is launched on the market,” he said.

The mother's heartbeat is also important for a child's development. The sound of the heart beating in the womb gives the foetus a feeling of security and safety. © Sebastian Kaulitzki -

“But we have already covered some key aspects. For example, the sensory Artificial Uterus can be washed with disinfectant, and the way that the mechanical stimuli are generated does not involve the use of electric wires which could generate harmful radiation.”

Specifications for the device

The specifications for a therapeutic medical device, such as ARTUS are always demanding. Firstly, the material properties of the textile, such as its feel, elasticity and resistance, must simulate conditions in the womb as realistically as possible. The best combination of fibre and fabric structure must be chosen.

For many premature babies, respirators, heartbeat monitors and pumps infusing fluids, nutrients and medication are their first experience of the world. © beerkoff -

The artificial uterus will also incorporate a mechanical textile actuator to provide the sensory and motor stimuli and sensation of equilibrium that will promote the development of the infant's brain. These earliest perceptions affect the whole of a person's subsequent life and are enormously important for the sensory-motor development of children born prematurely.

From the medical point of view, these sensory impressions from the uterus should be provided to the baby immediately after its premature birth. Children born too early often find it hard to judge spatial distance, control their muscle tension or perform complex sequences of movements.

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