Watch your future baby in 3-D

If researchers from Duke University can successfully install an updated version of a new image-viewing software found on clinical ultrasound scanners, it soon could be possible to see developing fetuses in the womb in living 3-D movies. These 3-D ultrasound imaging systems don't need any additional hardware, except special goggles. But as new monitors able to directly watch stereo 3-D images are now in development, this need for glasses should also been eliminated.

If researchers from Duke University can successfully install an updated version of a new image-viewing software found on clinical ultrasound scanners, it soon could be possible to see developing fetuses in the womb in living 3-D movies. These 3-D ultrasound imaging systems don't need any additional hardware, except special goggles. But as new monitors able to directly watch stereo 3-D images are now in development, this need for glasses should also been eliminated.

This 3-D image-viewing technology has been developed by Stephen Smith, a professor of biomedical engineering at Duke, and the members of his Ultrasound Transducer Group. As an example, you can see below a stereo image pair of canine mitral valve using a transesophageal echocardiography probe. (Credit: Ultrasound Transducer Group, Duke University)

A stereo image pair of canine mitral valve

Here are some short comments about the technology and how it could be used.

"To our knowledge, this is the first time it's been made possible to display real-time stereo image pairs on a clinical scanner," said Smith. "We believe all 3-D scanners could be modified in this way with only minor software changes." The new imaging capability can improve the early diagnosis of certain kinds of birth defects of the face and skull and improve surgeons' depth perception during ultrasound-guided medical procedures, including tumor biopsies and robot-assisted surgeries done through tiny "keyhole" incisions.

This research work has been published by Ultrasonic Imaging, a journal with apparently no website, under the name "Real-time Stereo 3D Ultrasound" in April 2007. Here is a link to this technical paper (PDF format, 10 pages, 696 KB), from which the above illustration has been extracted.

And for even more information, here are links to a series of presentations and a collection of short movies provided by the Ultrasound Transducer Group. I recommend in particular the presentation about "Real-Time 3D Ultrasound with Multiple Transducer Arrays" (17 slides).

Sources: Kendall Morgan, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University, April 24, 2007; and various websites

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