Parents might soon watch their unborn babies grow up in 3D

Modern technology is impressive, extremely useful, and sometimes a bit disturbing. Thanks to a new development, parents might soon be able to see their unborn babies developing in realistic 3-D immersive visualizations.

3D virtual model MRI view of fetus at 26 weeks.
Credit: Image courtesy of Radiological Society of North America

Even if you’re not a parent you have to admit this is pretty cool. The new technology transforms MRI and ultrasound data into a 3-D virtual reality model of a fetus. Initially, sequential MRI slices are used as a scaffold for the model, and then the entire fetus baby is reconstructed in 3D. The accurate model includes the womb, umbilical cord, placenta and fetus, and researchers argue that the technology could even be used for educational purposes – not just for eager parents.

“The 3-D fetal models combined with virtual reality immersive technologies may improve our understanding of fetal anatomical characteristics and can be used for educational purposes and as a method for parents to visualize their unborn baby,” said study co-author Heron Werner Jr., M.D., Ph.D., from the Clínica de Diagnóstico por Imagem, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

They key is the virtual reality which makes the visualization so spectacular. Dr. Werner and colleagues used the latest-generation Oculus Rift 2 headset. Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset developed and manufactured by Oculus released earlier this year, one of the best virtual reality technologies available at the moment.

“The experience with the Oculus Rift has been wonderful,” Dr. Werner said. “It provides fetal images that are sharper and clearer than ultrasound and MR images viewed on a traditional display.”

But this is more than just a cool visualization technique, it could actually save lives. A big advantage is that it offers an assessment tool for fetal airway patency. Fetal airway patency is basically the way through which the unborn baby’s airways open and close, and this technology could highlight dangerous abnormalities. Researchers already report that the technology has proven useful in one case, where a baby suffered from an abnormality that required postnatal surgery. They hope to use this approach more broadly over the next year.

“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 3-D in order to better visualize and share the morphological information,” Dr. Werner said. “We believe that these images will help facilitate a multidisciplinary discussion about some pathologies in addition to bringing a new experience for parents when following the development of their unborn child.”

3 thoughts on “Parents might soon watch their unborn babies grow up in 3D

  1. Pingback: Parents might soon watch their unborn babies grow up in 3D – ZME Science | Unilty

  2. Brian

    It's really important not to treat ultrasound as a toy. There is considerable evidence of harm and potential harm to fetuses and infants.

    "What they found is that exposure to diagnostic ultrasound in the first trimester is linked to increased autism symptom severity."
    https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-09/uowh-sla090116.php
    "FDA guidelines currently recommend that diagnostic ultrasound only be used for medical necessity. "

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8105165 "The only difference between the two groups was significantly higher intrauterine growth restriction in the intensive group."
    "Repeated prenatal ultrasound imaging and Doppler flow examinations should be restricted to those women to whom the information is likely to be of clinical benefit. "

    "The prolonged and frequent use of ultrasound on pregnant mice causes brain abnormalities in the developing mouse fetus, "
    https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-08/yu-uae080406.php

    Ultrasound is a very powerful technology, and that is what should cause to hesitate to overuse it. It can even effect brain function. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-10/asu-ust102808.php

    https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-08/cuso-nnt081414.php "controls size of molecules penetrating the blood-brain barrier"

    I'm a big fan of ultrasound, it's almost certainly safer than x-rays and can do amazing things. It's not a camera for taking selfies.

  3. Dr.K.SParthasarathy

    I agree with Brian. I may advocate a more conservative policy. No medical imaging modality including ultrasonography should be used on a foetus unless there is a clearly identified medical or clinical need. A few years ago, ultrasound was routinely used to image growing foetus. It became an entertainment! I have criticized this in a feature article which may be accessed at:http://www.thehindu.com/seta/2004/04/22/stories/2004042200341600.htm
    It was not clear whether a series of exposures are needed in the present instance. In any case I find it very difficult to defend the practice

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