Virtual reality is being tested in many different areas of medicine. Recently a group of researchers in Brazil demonstrated the creation of a 3D virtual reality model of an unborn baby from ultrasound and MRI data that can be viewed with an Oculus Rift headset.

We’ve covered several other uses of virtual reality in healthcare, covering everything from helping patients overcome anxiety or manage pain to planning complex surgery. With the availability of low cost virtual reality headsets like Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift, the technology has suddenly become accessible.

Here, viewers can see a detailed model of the fetus, umbilical cord, placenta, and womb, allowing additional understanding of fetal anatomical characteristics and serves a useful way a method for clinicians and anticipating parents to envision their unborn child. The 3D virtual reality models recreate the entire internal structure of the fetus, which can also assist physicians make more knowledgeable decisions concerning the delivery. This technique potentially allows for the complex visualization of 3D images that traditionally would only be viewed in a 2D format.

The research was conducted on patients at a clinic called the Clínica de Diagnóstico por Imagem in Rio de Janeiro. Researchers built the 3D model with the MRI data, followed by a physician selecting specific body parts to be analyzed and be reconstructed in 3D. The 3D model were then made compatible with a virtual reality device (Oculus Rift was utilized), including heartbeat sounds originating from the ultrasound of the fetus. In the abstract describing the work, the researchers noted that the generated 3D representations reflected fairly accurately fetal pathology that was later seen after birth. While using MRI data to generate a 3D image isn’t entirely new, this is an interesting twist on it and the added level of viewing through a VR headset may continue to offer a direction for further research.

Sources: RSNA Abstract, Haptic