A mother can now experience, firsthand, what her fetus sees and hears in her own womb with the help of an Oculus Rift 2 headset.
Brazilian researchers have developed a way to immerse parents in the prenatal experience via virtual reality visualizations of their unborn babies.
Lead researcher Dr. Heron Werner Jr., an OB-GYN specializing in fetal medicine at a Rio de Janeiro clinic, told STAT News that he and his team are looking to license the technology to a large U.S. medical imaging company.
The technology could help guide medical decisions for fetuses with potential health problems, Werner said. In his research, the 3-D visualizations helped identify abnormalities, such as cleft lips, tumors and hernias.
While this virtual reality tool might sound like a wild ride for any parent, its use will likely be reserved for a small number of cases in which doctors suspect health issues. It has only been tested in about 30 pregnancies at a Rio clinic so far.
Dr. Joshua Copel, a Yale OB-GYN unassociated with the research, cautioned against widespread use just yet.
“What we don't want is for people to say, 'We're going to do this for every fetal anomaly,' '' Copel told STAT. “It's not going to be helpful for some.”
Copel also said varying body types among women in different parts of the world could make the technology more or less effective; a higher average body mass index could impair visualization data.
This 3-D modeling technique might offer pathways to better understanding of fetal anatomical characteristics, such as the fetal respiratory tract, and could have both education and commercial applications.
The technology was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America Nov. 30. Werner said he plans to do more testing before publishing his team's research findings in a scientific journal.