No more toad testing kits

Whenever the time comes, planned or not, the accuracy of a pregnancy test is of the utmost importance to any potential parent. The read-out on the tiny white stick is life-changing, and reliability is paramount.

In the early 2000s, Cambridge Consultants helped to develop the first-to-market digital at-home pregnancy test. The Clearblue Digital Pregnancy Test, would go on to become one of the most popular, and most trusted at-home pregnancy testing kits in the world, with a 99% accuracy rate.

Pregnancy kits test for Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG), the surest early sign of pregnancy.

The Clearblue has, of course, made pregnancy testing incredibly convenient, but its impact is much more personal than that. When it comes to bringing another life into the world, it’s often discretion, and the option to hold onto information until the expectant mum feels ready to share, which is most important. But it wasn’t always like this.

Pregnant lady

How pregnancy tests work

Pregnancy kits test for Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG), the surest early sign of pregnancy. It’s worth noting, however, that hCG is the most accurate predictor only after implantation, which occurs around nine days after ovulation.

A brief history of the pregnancy test

The very early history of pregnancy testing is somewhat fanciful, moving into downright gruesome, landing eventually on the neat little plastic sticks we know today.

Missed a period? Hippocrates suggested a solution of honey and water before bed. If you developed stomach cramps, you were pregnant.

In ancient Egypt, the urine of a possibly pregnant woman would be used to water bags of wheat or barley seed. Germination - that is, the erupting of the plant from the seed - apparently indicating pregnancy. They even believed that it was possible to determine the child’s gender, based on the type of grain that formed.

Missed a period? Hippocrates suggested a solution of honey and water before bed. If you developed stomach cramps, you were pregnant.

From these harmless, if somewhat misleading methods, to the late 1920s, where two German gynaecologists began injecting women’s urine into mice before dissecting them. If the mice’s ovaries had changed in response, you were pregnant.

Later, the practice moved from mice into toads, who, fortunately for them, didn’t need to be sliced open. Instead, after being injected, the toads would be left overnight in a warm room. If, in the morning, the toads had laid eggs, you were pregnant.

The birth of the modern testing kit

It wasn’t until the 1960s that we saw anything close to resembling an at-home pregnancy testing kit. Until then, through a doctor was the only way to know for sure in the very early stages. The first ‘at-home’ pregnancy testing kit looked more like a chemistry set, and yet, it still involved studying your own wee.

If, after following the instructions carefully, your urine was cloudy, you were not pregnant. If, however, a small ring appeared at the bottom of the solution, chances are, you were expecting.

Frustrated by this unwieldy and frankly convoluted chemistry kit, a graphic designer of all people, sketched out and then modelled the first version of what we might recognise as a portable pregnancy testing kit. This simple construction, based on a plastic paper clip box, worked in much the same way as the old kit, only you didn’t need to be Alfred Nobel to work it.

So, where do Cambridge Consultants come in?

The chemistry set and Crane’s compacted version were a phenomenal leap forward, but inaccuracies and human error when reading results were still a problem. Clearblue, which at the time was owned by Unibrand, worked with Cambridge Consultants to produce a test which was accurate, easy to use and crucially, easy to read.

Clearblue found “that one in four women can misread traditional line pregnancy test results”, leading to false positives and a raft of mixed emotions. In designing the industry’s first-to-market digital pregnancy test, Cambridge Consultants helped to do away with inaccurate results, whilst making at-home pregnancy testing kits even more discreet, as well as easier to use and read.

What Cambridge Consultants and Clearblue gave to expectant parents, was confidence, which in the face of a life-changing event, is vital.

Explore further

Introducing the Clearblue pregnancy test
Cambridge Consultants on the pregnancy testing kit
A history of pregnancy testing kits

Back to the top

Keep exploring

Gene sequencers

Show me