UAMS-Developed Medical Device for Monitoring Uterine Contractions Goes to Market

By Spencer Watson

The tocodynamometer, marketed as Koala Toco, was approved in May by the Food and Drug Administration. Koala Toco, manufactured and marketed by Murray, Utah-based Clinical Innovations, is compatible and works with existing equipment like fetal heart rate monitors.

Work on developing the device started about four years ago by Curtis Lowery, M.D., chairman of the College of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Hari Eswaran, Ph.D., a professor in the same department, and James D. Wilson, M.S., assistant director of research at the UALR Graduate Institute of Technology.

Tocodynamometers are electronic devices for monitoring and recording uterine contractions during labor. They are applied to the lower part of the uterus using a belt.

“It was necessary to measure contractions through a device that was more affordable and easier to use than conventional tocodynamometers,” Lowery said. “That’s how it all got started.”

Older tocodynamometers can cost hundreds of dollars, are completely electronic and have to be cleaned following their use. Koala Toco is a small plastic disk with air inside that rests on the abdomen of a pregnant woman. When the uterus contracts, it pushes against the intrauterine wall and makes internal pressure rise. That pushes the air inside the Koala Toco and produces a signal. The signal is transmitted through an attached cable that also is plugged into a fetal heart rate monitor.

“Electronic tocodynamometers are heavier, and because of their cost, are cleaned and stored away after use,” Eswaran said. “Perspiration, other bodily fluids and medical gels all can be present on the abdominal skin of woman in labor and come in contact with the tocodynamometer. Because Koala Toco costs about $15, the nurse doesn’t have to spend time later cleaning and sterilizing the device. Ours can be tossed out.”

In 2002, UAMS established BioVentures and its Technology Licensing Office to facilitate the startup of new business enterprises, based on UAMS technology. The university is interested in translating its research endeavors such as Koala Toco technology into products that benefit human health. 

UAMS is the state's only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute and Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS' clinical enterprise. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 3,275 students, 890 medical residents and fellows, and five dental residents. It is the state's largest public employer with more than 12,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children's, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube or Instagram.