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IEEE SIGNAL PROCESSING LETTERS, VOL. 18, NO.

3, MARCH 2011

161

The Maternal Abdominal ECG as Input to MICA


in the Fetal ECG Extraction Problem
J. L. Camargo-Olivares, R. Martn-Clemente, Member, IEEE, S. Hornillo-Mellado, M. M. Elena, and I. Romn

AbstractThis letter presents a successful system for recovering


the fetal electrocardiogram using multidimensional ICA (MICA).
MICA requires as many observations as sources. To increase the
number of observations, MICA is often applied to data sets that
include measurements taken at the mothers thoracic region. However, experiments suggest that the propagation from the maternal
heart to the mothers abdomen is not a simple delay, and that approach may fail. Alternatively, our method first estimates the maternal ECG directly from the mothers abdomen. Then, inputs this
estimated ECG to MICA. Experiments show superior performance
as compared with the traditional approach.
Index TermsFetal ECG extraction, independent component
analysis.

of inputs to MICA with MECG signals, which are recorded from


the maternal abdomen. We point out that these MECG signals
have been first cleaned so that they are free from fetal contributions. Experiments on real data show that MICA performs much
better when the proposed technique is used.
II. BACKGROUND
The cardiac electrical activity is often modeled as if it originates from a current dipole located in the heart [5]. The potential
at a point specified by
due to a current dipole of moment
radius vector is
(1)

I. INTRODUCTION
HE fetal electrocardiogram (FECG) is used for the calculation of the fetal cardiac frequency and in the prediction of the fetal acidosis [1]. The FECG can be measured by
placing electrodes on the mothers abdomen, but it is largely
distorted by different types of noise, among which the maternal
electrocardiogram (MECG) is the most important [1]. Multidimensional Independent Component Analysis (MICA) is an advanced signal processing technique that is used for separating
out the FECG from the MECG and the rest of the interferences
[2][4]. MICA is an extension of Independent Component Analysis (ICA). In MICA, a linear generative model such as that used
in ICA is assumed. In contrast to ICA, however, the components
are not assumed to be all mutually independent. Instead, it is assumed that the components can be partitioned into groups; components from different groups are statistically independent but
components belonging to the same group may be dependent.
MICA is more appropriate than ICA in the fetal ECG extraction
problem. The rationale behind is that there is no evidence to
suggest that the fetal components are independent among themselves. Though MICA is generally reliable, experiments show
that it sometimes fails. Thus we propose augmenting the number

Manuscript received October 04, 2010; revised December 18, 2010; accepted
December 28, 2010. Date of publication January 10, 2011; date of current version January 24, 2011. This work was supported by the Andalusian government
under Grant P07-TIC-02865. The associate editor coordinating the review of
this manuscript and approving it for publication was Dr. Z. Jane Wang.
J. Camargo, R. Martn and S. Hornillo are with the Department of Signal
Theory and Communications, University of Seville, Seville, Spain (e-mail:
ruben@us.es).
M. M. Elena is with the Department of Electronic Engineering, University of
Seville, Seville, Spain.
I. Romn is with the Department of Telematics, University of Seville, Seville,
Spain.
Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/LSP.2011.2104415

be
where is the permittivity of the medium. Let
orthonormal basis vectors in the real three-dimensional space
the coordinates of
in
and denote by
this basis, i.e.,
. It follows that
(2)
. Both the fetal and the maternal
where
cardiac electrical activity are usually explained by this model,
though some precisions should be made regarding the FECG:
the FECG cannot be usually detected between 28 and 32 weeks
of gestation due to the isolating effect of the vernix caseosa,
a sebum that protects the skin of the fetus [5]. After the 32th
week, in spite of the vernix, current can escape from the fetus
through its mouth and its umbilical cord [5]. Experiments in
paper [5] showed that the FECG can be still described by an
equation of the type (2) after the 32th week, though the number
of summands may be less than three. Putting all together, the
,
signals recorded from the mothers abdomen,
become a superposition of the FECG and the MECG:
..
.

(3)

denote the coordinates of the maternal current


where
correspond to the FECG, and
dipole moment,
denotes the contribution of noise. It can be safely assumed that
fetal are uncorrelated among themselves1 and statistically independent of the others [2]. MICA task can be formulated as
estimation of all the signals , which will be called sources in
the following [6].
1Correlation can be always removed by an orthogonal transformation, i.e., a
change of basis in 3-D space.

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IEEE SIGNAL PROCESSING LETTERS, VOL. 18, NO. 3, MARCH 2011

Fig. 1. Block diagram of the proposed system.

III. METHOD
MICA is often applied to data sets that include MECG signals
taken at the mothers thoracic region, which are almost free from
fetal contributions [2], [3]. They can be thougth of as references to estimate the maternal sources and, then, to eliminate
these from the signals recorded at the mothers abdomen (the
more mixtures of the sources are used, the better MICA will be
able to identify them [6]). By contrast, this letter proposes to recover the MECG directly from the pregnant womans abdomen.
Rationale follows: in our view, model (1) is only an approximation (a good approximation, but still an approximation). It is
more realistic to assume that the maternal heartbeat signal propagates from the chest cavity to the abdomen. Consequently, the
source signals that explain the abdominal MECG may not be the
same as the source signals that explain the thoracic MECG: for
example, there may be slight propagation delays among them.
Hence, to estimate the maternal sources directly from the abdominal recordings seems to be a more suitable approach. Consequently, we accept (3) as a model for the data, but only as a
latent variable model. Admittedly, this implies that the lack
some direct physical meaning. The architecture of the proposed
system is shown in Fig. 1. Blocks are described next:
1) Preprocessing Block: It aims to remove the baseline
wander, the electromyografic (EMG) noise, and the power line
. Baseline wander is caused
interference from each signal
by patients breathing, movement, etc., and can be eliminated,
together with the EMG noise, using a FIR band-pass filter
with cut-off frequencies at 1 Hz and 90 Hz. The power line
interference is rejected using a notch filter.
2) MECG Estimation: The proposed procedure that has been
used with success is as follows: 1) filter each signal taken at the
mothers abdomen by the filter described in [7], and 2) perform
a linear mapping of the filter outputs to a lower dimensional
space using Principal Component Analysis (PCA). Some comments are in order: this block faces the problem of recovering
a signal (the MECG) corrupted by noise (e.g., the FECG) at,
fortunately, a very high signal-to-noise ratio. A state-of-the-art
solution is that proposed in [7]. This filter actually generates a
synthetic MECG whose morphology and parameters (R-R interval and so on) are calculated from the filter input. To gain
efficiency, PCA is then used to reduce the number of MECG
signals under consideration.
3) ICA Block: In practice, to perform MICA, one approach is
to estimate the basic ICA model and then group the components
according to their dependencies. The inputs to ICA are both the
preprocessed abdominal maternal signals and the MECG estimates (outputs of block 2). Note that, in previous approaches,
the inputs to the ICA block are only the abdominal maternal
signals, as they were recorded from electrodes, and, sometimes,

Fig. 2. Recordings at 24th week of pregnancy; (a) and (b) are taken at the
thorax; (c), (d) and (e) are from mothers abdomen.

also thoracic maternal signals. The reader might also think that
an alternative to ICA for recovering the FECG is simply to subtract the estimated MECG signals from the abdominal recordings. However, this approach fails when the FECG is weaker
than the residual noise.
4) Postprocessing Block: (Optional) the FECG is filtered
again with the filter [7] to improve the signal to noise ratio.
IV. EXPERIMENTS
Our purpose is to check whether or not the performance of
ICA is better when it is used in combination with the MECG
estimation block. To ensure that the processes and results can
be replicated, we have used data from public databases in our
experiments. Matlab code for filter [7] is found at [8].
A. Experiment 1
The method has been tested using experimental data from the
Non-invasive Fetal Electrocardiogram Database [9]. This public
database contains a series of 55 multichannel thoracic and abdominal noninvasive recordings, taken from a single subject between 21 to 40 weeks of pregnancy. The ones used in this experiment are shown in Fig. 2 (vertical axis is not scaled). The
first two signals from the top correspond to electrodes placed
on the mothers thoracic region, and the last three signals correspond to electrodes located on the womans abdomen. Observe
that the MECG is clearly visible in all the recordings; but the
FECG cannot be identified. The experiment consisted of three
steps. In steps 1) and 2), the output of the MECG estimation
block was disconnected from the ICA block. In step 3), the
connection was reestablished in order to test the performance of
ICA in combination with that block. The calculation of ICA was
carried out using the JADE algorithm [6], [10]. Note that Steps
1 and 2 correspond to the traditional approach. The results were
as follows.
Step 1) JADE was applied only to the three signals measured at the abdomen, outputting the signals shown
in Fig. 3. The FECG cannot be identified.

CAMARGO-OLIVARES et al.: MATERNAL ABDOMINAL ECG AS INPUT TO MICA

163

Fig. 3. JADE outputs when the inputs are the signals (c), (d), and (e) of Fig. 2.

Fig. 5. Results by the proposed method. Signal (d) is the fetal heartbeat signal.
Signal (e) is signal (d) after postprocessing.

Fig. 4. JADE outputs when the inputs are all signals in Fig. 2.
Fig. 6. Real cutaneous recordings at 26th week of pregnancy.

Step 2) JADE was applied to the five recordings shown in


Fig. 2, outputting the signals in Fig. 4. Though the
MECG signals taken at the mothers thoracic region
were also used as inputs to JADE, the FECG cannot
be identified either.
Step 3) JADE was applied to the set formed by the three
abdominal recordings plus the MECG estimate obtained from them by the MECG estimation block.
Signals (a), (b), (c), and (d) of Fig. 5 are the JADE
outputs. Unlike in the previous two cases, the fetal
heartbeat signal is apparent: it is the signal labelled
as (d), since its heart rate is about twice the maternal one. Postprocessing signal (d) we got signal
(e), with a lower background noise. Equivalent results were obtained whatever the recordings of the
database were used, excepting in those cases corresponding to data between 28 and 32 weeks of gestation, which is probably due to the fact that the vernix
disturbs the measurement of the FECG [5].

B. Experiment 2
We repeated the previous experiments using a different database [11]. The motivation was only to test the proposed approach on a different patient. Data consisted of 15 abdominal
recordings collected during 30 minutes at 26th week of pregnancy. For illustration, Fig. 6 shows a portion of five of these
recordings. Results are summarized in Fig. 7. Signals (a) and (b)
are the outputs of the MECG estimation block. Signal (c) is
the FECG estimate obtained by applying JADE to the available
15 abdominal recordings: note that the R waves are hardly visible, and signal to noise ratio (SNR) is low. By contrast, signal
(d) is the FECG estimate recovered by applying JADE to the set
formed by the 15 original abdominal data plus signals (a) and
(b): the quality of the estimation is obviously better. Postprocessing signal (e) we got signal (d), in which the R waves are
more apparent (e.g., see before
and
s).

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IEEE SIGNAL PROCESSING LETTERS, VOL. 18, NO. 3, MARCH 2011

Fig. 7. (a)(b) Outputs of the MECG estimation block; (c) output of JADE
when the MECG estimation block is not operating; (d) output of JADE when
the MECG estimation block is on; signal (e) is signal (d) after postprocessing.

Fig. 8. (a) and (c): o Outputs of the ICA algorithms when the MECG estimation block is off; (b) and (d) outputs of the same algorithms when the MECG
estimation block is operating.

Similar results were obtained by using FastICA [6], [12]


or -ICA [8], [13] instead of JADE ( -ICA is specifically
designed for the ECG). From the top to the bottom, Fig. 8
shows: (a) FECG estimate obtained by applying FastICA only
to the 15 original abdominal recordings; (b) FECG estimate
obtained by applying FastICA to the 15 original abdominal
recordings plus the two MECG estimates shown in Fig. 7(a)
and (b); (c) FECG estimate obtained by applying -ICA to the
15 original abdominal recordings; (d) FECG estimate obtained
by applying -ICA to the 15 original abdominal recordings
plus the two MECG estimates shown in Fig. 7(a) and (b).
As in Experiment 2, the algorithms perform much better in
combination with the MECG estimation block. MICA alone
is unable to produce useful results (not even the fetal heart rate
can be measured), whatever algorithm is used.

The proposed technique is simple and should be actually understood as a sort of preprocessing step to MICA. We are currently investigating the possibility of using this approach (i.e.,
the use of synthetic reference signals as inputs to MICA) in different situations, such as in speech separation problems.

V. CONCLUSION
Even though MICA has been recognized as highly successful
in the fetal electrocardiogram (FECG) estimation problem, experiments reveal that it is sometimes unable to produce useful
results. To increase the effectiveness of this technique, our approach consists in using maternal electrocardiogram (MECG)
signals as inputs to MICA, provided that such signals are extracted from the mothers abdomen. The theoretical analysis is
difficult, since the modelling of the ECG propagation from the
maternal heart and from the fetus to the mothers abdomen is
extremely complex. Even so, all of our experiments on real and
simulated data (including those that do not appear in the paper,
due to the lack of space) confirm that the performance of MICA
is better when the proposed technique is used.

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