That PF word

UniNews has written a series of profiles on women at the University of Auckland, to mark 125 years of women's suffrage in New Zealand. This profile is on Dr Jenny Kruger.

30 November 2018

Dr Jenny Kruger
Dr Jenny Kruger

“Nobody could say ‘pelvic floor’ when I came to the Auckland Bioengineering Institute in 2009,” says Dr Kruger.

She pauses and then can’t help laughing. “And many still can’t … but they’re getting better.”

Jenny leads the Institute’s Pelvic Floor Research group, part of an overall Women’s Health Initiative. The group is developing a way to measure pelvic floor muscle health using a custom-designed, intra-vaginal pressure sensor array called FemFit, which sends readings on muscle strength to a smartphone.

It can be worn during daily living or exercise and could soon make a real difference to the lives of the one in four women who suffer urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.

“FemFit is about education, empowering women and individualising health.”

Born in the former Rhodesia, Jenny trained and worked in nursing and midwifery in South Africa and Zululand. When she and gynaecologist husband Stephen moved the family to Whakatane, she ran rural clinics out of Taneatua and Waimana School, later coming to Auckland.

From a job as a midwife at Waitakere Hospital I became interested in women and sports, and I decided if I wanted to make a difference, I needed to do more study.

Dr Jenny Kruger

So she did a postgraduate diploma at Nursing School, a Masters in sport and exercise science, and then a PhD in sports and science while bringing up three school-age children.

For her PhD Jenny studied childbirth and the elite athlete.

“Pelvic floor muscles in the elite athlete seem to behave differently and are significantly larger,” she says. “A lot of elite athletes have a difficult time in delivery.”

She didn’t find all the answers, but an elastometer used to measure pelvic muscles, developed by ABI engineers, got her interested in medical devices. She won a Best Doctoral Thesis Award and then a two-year Rutherford Fellowship.

“You need a certain tenacity to do what I do,” she reflects. “I’m getting better at knowing how engineers work and I like to think I bring a different perspective to the engineers here.”

“Sometimes they have brilliant ideas but they struggle for an application. I have a problem to solve and I’m looking for a solution – which may be an application.”

She would like to see more women in leadership roles. “I think this is being acknowledged but we’re not there yet.”

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