Nov 21, 2016 | By Tess

While 3D printed fetuses have been a popular trend amongst parents seeking to capture a physical memento of their unborn child, the medical implications of being able to visualize a fetus in 3D have not been widely discussed. Now, however, thanks to some insight from a group of experts, the benefits of 3D modeling fetuses is becoming more apparent.

For every parent, getting that first glimpse at an ultrasound is a life-changing and often exhilarating moment. At the end of the day, however, these parents are having to view their unborn child’s growth through grainy and hard-to-discern images that sometimes make it difficult to tell what body part is what. Now, thanks to a new 3D scanning technology which combines ultrasound imaging with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), doctors can create 3D images of the fetus that parents and specialists alike can view through VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift.

The 3D scanning technique, which is being developed in a clinic in Brazil, essentially combines ultrasound and MRI technology to scan various segments of the womb and fetus which can then be constructed into a full 3D model of the developing baby. In addition to allowing parents to visualize their fetuses in 3D virtual reality, the technology could also allow doctors to get a closer look at the unborn child in order to detect any problems with its development.

example of a traditional ultrasound

Dr. Heron Werner Jr., co-author of the related study and a doctor at the Clinica de Diagnóstico por Imagem in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, said: “We believe that these images will bring a new experience for parents when following the development of their unborn child. The 3D fetal models combined with virtual reality immersive technologies may improve our understanding of anatomical characteristics and can be used for educational purposes and as a method for parents to visualize their unborn baby.”

According to the researchers, this is the first time that ultrasound and MRI scanning technologies have been combined for this purpose, as the latter were traditionally only used in cases where ultrasounds were not clear or high quality enough. The detailed 3D models captured through the new method could help doctors to diagnose and predict problems the baby could face after its birth. For instance, doctors would be better equipped to determine whether the child would have airway problems when it was born (by seeing if the fetus’s airways were blocked) and could plan surgery for the issue ahead of time.

The 3D models, visualized and explored in VR using Oculus Rift headsets, also integrate the baby’s heartbeat. These combined features could help parents to not only develop a strong bond with their unborn child, but could help them see and understand any conditions or malformations that might affect their child. This could be a crucial part in making better, well-informed treatment decisions if they are required.

“The experience with the Oculus Rift has been wonderful," said Dr. Werner. "It provides fetal images that are sharper and clearer than ultrasound and MRI images viewed on a traditional display. And the physicians can have access to an immersive experience on the clinical case that they are working on, having the whole internal structure of the fetus in 3D in order to better visualise and share the morphological information.”

photos from: Radiology Society of North America

So far the new scanning method has only been trialled in Dr. Werner’s clinic in Brazil, where it helped to successfully pick-up internal abnormalities in a fetus. But now, thanks to a presentation about the technique at the annual Radiological Society of North America meeting, doctors are hopeful that it will soon be implemented worldwide.

Professor Simon Fishel, founder of Care Facility, Britain’s largest fertility group, expressed excitement about the new 3D scanning technology, saying: “Anything that improves the opportunity to observe fetal health accurately is important, especially with advancing surgical technology that is now being used successfully on the fetus in the womb, where applicable. Also for many there is great advantage of bonding early on.”

And while it is not clear if this will be implemented as part of the scanning process, it would also be possible to turn the 3D models into 3D prints, which could then be given to parents as keepsakes.



Posted in 3D Scanning



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