Pregnant Moms See Unborn Babies in 3D

By: The Associated Press
By: The Associated Press

It looks like an ordinary ultrasound examination, but this is the start of a process which will preserve the face of Kumi Mendoza's unborn baby.

The actual ultrasound is 2D when it's printed.

But the doctor at today's examination will be able to communicate the data from the ultrasound to a company which can recreate a solid image true to scale image of the face.

At a cost of between five-hundred and 1000 US dollars, it is an expensive process, but the company producing them says demand is soaring.

It claims this is because of Japan's plummeting birth rate.

Women are having fewer children at a much older age

It means couples have more disposable income and are happy to spend money on anything that helps immortalize the memory of the mother's pregnancy.

Dr.Satoshi Sohda is the Director of Hiroo Women's clinic in Tokyo, which is affiliated with 3D printing company Fasotec.

He says: "These days in Japan the age at which women are becoming pregnant is increasing and also the number of children women give birth to on average has decreased to just one or maximum two. Furthermore couples in their 30s and 40s are generally financially stable and are willing to go to extreme lengths to preserve the memory of the pregnancy."

To get a 3D model of the baby the ultrasound image has to be of the best quality.

Sohda explains: "To be able to get the best images of the baby's face, takes a bit of art (and) skill. The background is very important and the more amniotic fluid there is in front of the baby's face the more the image comes out nicely. For example if the baby's face happens to be against the wall of the uterus then the picture doesn't come out as good.

"Basically if something is against the face it's difficult to get good 3D or 4D image results. It's important to get the baby's face to move in the right direction to have enough amniotic fluid to be able to get a clear picture."

Mendoza is in the seventh month of her first pregnancy and being able to come face-to-face with her unborn child is a pleasure she can always treasure.

She says: "When I first saw it I was really moved. The nose and the lips looked so real and the print looked like something that had been done by hand. I'm still surprised that a machine could produce something like this. I was also impressed that this is real size because I can imagine what my baby looks like. I can't wait to meet her."

Fasotec is the data processing company which creates the models.

3D printing technology has been used professionally in medicine and industry for a considerable time.

Fasotec spokesman Tomohiro Kinoshita says: "Once we receive the data from the doctor, we convert it from 2D to 3D and we edit the 3D data until it's ready for transfer to the printing unit that will automatically create the piece."

Fasotec calls this process "Biotexture" technology.

Kinoshita says: "Our original intention was to spread the word about Biotexture technology. I think this technology could potentially save the lives of millions of people in the future. To raise awareness about this technology we wanted to start a service that could reach consumers directly.

"We chose to focus on unborn babies because this is our line of work. Our printing techniques are usually based on MRI and CT data so we wanted to use a process that was consistent with our technique."

Organs can also be replicated with the appropriate texture thanks to a variety of options that the latest 3D printers have to offer.

They can be produced in plastic, gel, or rubber.

Surgeons use them to improve their accuracy and proficiency before operating on patients.

Making services financially accessible to the public has been a challenge.

If they wish, expectant mums can get 3D printing of entire fetuses.

Fasotec says this service hasn't been popular because the cost of the scan is prohibitively high.

Women who want a keepsake of their unborn child are advised to wait until their seventh month of pregnancy as that is when babies facial features become more distinctive.

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