The traditional home pregnancy test could soon be obsolete, scientists have said as they announced a new smartwatch system that alerts women when they conceive.
Trials in Switzerland have allowed researchers to identify for the first time a package of minute physiological changes, detectable by existing hardware, that take place when pregnancy starts.
They are now building an algorithm which learns the individual wearer’s personal characteristics so it can not only signal the start of a pregnancy but also highlight the best windows in which to try for a baby.
The technology promises to allow women hoping to conceive to do away with the morning ritual of a home pregnancy test, which assesses levels of human Chorionic Gonadotropin in urine.
The team behind the Ava bracelet, which is expected to cost around £200, plan to begin real-world tests of the system before the end of the year.
Rather than waking up every morning and trying to pee on a stick to detect the rise in hCG you would simply have the bracelet.Mohaned Shilaih
Presenting their research at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine annual congress in Texas, they described the subtle changes in skin temperature, breathing rate, pulse and heart rate variability that occur when a women conceives.
They found a pulse variation of just 2.1 beats per minutes, as well as a 0.2C change in skin temperature was indicative of the onset of pregnancy, probably due to hormonal changes involving progesterone and oestrogen.
The smartwatch is able to detect pregnancy around a week after conception, the same as the most sensitive pregnancy test. In the future, it may be able to detect conception sooner, the developers believe.
Mohaned Shilaih, senior researcher at University Hospital Zurich, said: “Rather than waking up every morning and trying to pee on a stick to detect the rise in hCG you would simply have the bracelet worn both night and day.”
He described the standard method as “physiologically tedious” for women, adding: “This would partly take away this kind of pressure.”
The Zurich researchers said the machine learning system would be continuously developed to monitor women during pregnancy, potentially providing early warning of serious conditions such as preeclampsia, which can force doctors to induce premature birth.
HCG was first discovered to be linked to the fertilisation of eggs in the 1930s, however it was not until the 1970s that home testing kits became widely available.
The Ava bracelet technology is not expected to provide an earlier indication of pregnancy than the current home testing method because both ultimately rely on the same package of hormones being released.
The algorithm is already being used in an existing Ava device to indicate when best to try for a baby and its designers say it is simply a matter of putting in sufficient data from more women before it can be widely relied on to signal pregnancy.
So far they have recruited more than 300 women and have measured more than 1,000 menstrual cycles and 100 pregnancies.
“The current algorithm that is being used for the detection in the fertile window and is working very well,” said Mr Shilaih.
“Since the mechanisms underlying both of them are the same then what we perceive as the bottleneck here is simply the sample size.
“So once we have a sufficient number of conceptive versus non-conceptive cycles then we can probably achieve that.”
The innovation was revealed as it was announced that more than 300,00 children have been born through IVF in the UK since 1991, with more than a million treatments undertaken.
The data from the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority register also revealed that the average age for women having the treatment is 35 years old, an age that has remained largely static over recent years.
Treatments involving women aged 18 to 34 remain the largest single group, accounting for 43 per cent of all procedures, while treatments for women aged 40 and over account for just 20% – 14,500 – with very few rounds of IVF being provided to women over 45.
Earlier this week the world’s first person born due to IVF, Louise Brown, criticised the lack of NHS provision of the treatment.
peaking approaching the 40th anniversary of her groundbreaking in vitro conception, she said it was “devastating” that many UK couples could not access IVF, despite national rules stipulating up to three free rounds.
A survey by the campaign group fertility fairness found just one in 10 local NHS area were providing the full recommended service.