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Using imaging-based, three-dimensional models of the cervix and uterus for studies of cervical changes during pregnancy



Preterm birth affects over 12% of all pregnancies in the United States for an annual healthcare cost of $26 billion. Preterm birth is a multifactorial disorder but cervical abnormalities are a prominent feature in many patients. Women with a short cervix are known to be at increased risk for preterm birth and a short cervix is used to target therapy to prevent preterm birth. Although the clinical significance of a short cervix is well known, the three-dimensional anatomical changes that lead to cervical shortening are poorly understood. Here, we review our previous studies of the three-dimensional anatomy of the cervix and uterus during pregnancy. The rationale for these studies was to improve our understanding of the deformation mechanisms leading to cervical shortening. Both magnetic resonance imaging and three-dimensional (3D) ultrasound were used to obtain anatomical data in healthy, pregnant volunteers. Solid models were constructed from the 3D imaging data. These solid models were used to create numerical models suitable for biomechanical simulation. Three simulations were studied: cervical funneling, uterine growth, and fundal pressure. These simulations showed that cervical changes are a complex function of the tissue properties of the cervical stroma, the loading conditions associated with pregnancy and the 3D anatomical geometry of the cervix and surrounding structures. An improved understanding of these cervical changes could point to new approaches to prevent undesired cervical shortening. This new insight should lead to therapeutic strategies to delay or prevent preterm birth. Clin. Anat. 26:97–104, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.