3D imaging of fetuses has been around for a while, but the images are typically static and lacking in depth. That may change however, with a new virtual reality technique that can be rotated 360 degrees, according to a team of researchers from Brazil.
The researchers said that they hope that these enhanced fetal models are the next step in not only allowing parents to visualize their future children, but also in helping researchers to better understand fetal anatomy.
In their research, the researchers were able to use the technique to visualize and make 3D models of 25 fetuses. There were two cases in which the technique didn't work In those, the levels of amniotic fluid were too low for the researchers to get images of the fetus that were high enough in their resolution to make the 3D model, Werner told Live Science.
But in the cases where the technique worked, "we found these images more real, and the possibility that we can see in 360 degrees presents us with a greater interaction with the exam," said study co-author Dr. Heron Werner Jr., who is from a company called Clinical Diagnostic Imaging that is based in Rio de Janeiro. Heron and his colleagues recently presented the technique at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.
The technique involves creating a 3D model of the fetus using MRI and ultrasound, or a combination of the two. A pregnant woman would undergo an imaging exam similar to a regular obstetric ultrasound or MRI. Next, the researchers would use frames of these images, in sequence, to begin to make a 3D model of the fetus, the researchers said.
The most exciting part is that the parents would then be able to view the final image - which can include the inside of the womb, the umbilical cord and the placenta along with the fetus — through a virtual reality device like a headset.
Werner and his team used a virtual reality headset in their research. They found that women could not only experience what it would look like if they were flying through and around their fetus by merely looking around, but also they could hear the fetal heartbeat, by way of the ultrasound.
Another benefit of this new technology is in its ability to allow medical professionals new options for evaluating the health and development of a fetus, the researchers said.
For example, the researchers said, a doctor could zoom through the entire length of a fetus’s airway to look for masses that could block it and to better determine delivery options.
What once seemed like science fiction is well on its way to being a part of everyday science.
Story source: Taylor Kubota, http://www.livescience.com/57221-vrtual-reality-shows-unborn-babies-in-3d.html