Parents can watch their unborn babies in 3D using virtual reality
Parents-to-be will soon be able to view a 3D representation of their unborn babies in the womb, using a virtual reality headset.
The technology, developed by researchers at Brazil's Clínica de Diagnóstico por Imagem, uses data acquired from MRI machines and ultrasound data to create a 3D model of the foetus.
MRI provides high-resolution foetal and placental imaging with excellent contrast and is generally used during medical evaluations when ultrasound cannot provide sufficiently high-quality images.
Three-dimensional virtual reality models are then created based on the MRI data. Sequentially-mounted MRI slices are used to begin construction of the model.
The physician then selects the body part to be reconstructed in 3D and once an accurate model is created, including the womb, umbilical cord, placenta and foetus, the VR device can be programmed to incorporate the model.
“The 3D foetal models combined with virtual reality 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.
The VR foetal models are very close replications of the postnatal appearance of the new-born baby and recreate the entire internal structure of the foetus, including a detailed view of the respiratory tract, which can aid doctors in assessing abnormalities.
The team used an Oculus Rift 2 VR headset to place the user in an immersive environment, complete with heartbeat sounds derived from the ultrasound of the foetus. Users can study the 3D foetal anatomy simply by moving their head.
“The experience with the Oculus Rift has been wonderful,” Werner said. “It provides foetal images that are sharper and clearer than ultrasound and MR images viewed on a traditional display.”
The technology has numerous potential applications including assessing whether the foetus’s air pathways are open and unblocked (above).
For example, if 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 technology can also help coordinate care with multidisciplinary teams and provide better visual information to parents to help them understand malformations and treatment decisions.
“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 foetus in 3D in order to better visualise and share the morphological information,” 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.”
The researchers have used the technique on patients at a clinic in Rio de Janeiro, including cases where the foetus had evidence of an abnormality that required postnatal surgery.