Coming soon: 3D visualisations of unborn babies on Oculus Rift

21 Nov 2016

Ultrasounds could prove a thing of the past. Image: ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Researchers have developed a 3D visualisation tool to allow parents view their unborn baby as it grows in the womb.

‘Immersive visualisation’ is not a phrase one would expect to hear when it comes to scans of a foetus throughout a woman’s pregnancy. However, with an Oculus Rift VR headset, that could soon change.

Unborn baby

Researchers in Brazil used MRI and ultrasound scans to produce 3D models of unborn babies, giving a detailed model including the womb, umbilical cord, placenta and foetus.

Sequentially mounted MRI slices are used to begin construction of the model. A segmentation process follows in, whereby the physician selects the body parts to be reconstructed in 3D.

The team behind the new process claims these 3D models are “remarkably similar” to the postnatal appearance of the newborn baby. They recreate the entire internal structure of the foetus, including a detailed view of the respiratory tract, which can aid doctors in assessing abnormalities.

3D unborn baby

From left: 3D virtual model ultrasound view of foetus at 12 and 26 weeks. Right: Close-up of a foetus at 26 weeks. Image: Radiological Society of North America

It’s so accurate, they claim, that these models could help medical professionals assess the state of airways being open and unblocked.

For example, if the ultrasound showed an abnormal mass near the foetal airway, physicians could use the 3D images and the headset to assess the entire length of the airway, and make better informed decisions about delivery.

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

“Physicians can have access to an immersive experience on the clinical case that they are working on, having the whole internal structure of the foetus in 3D in order to better visualise and share the morphological information,” said Werner.

“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.”

Werner and colleagues are presenting their findings at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America next week.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic