Indiana University visualization experts help doctors diagnose fetal alcohol spectrum disorders with 3dMD

Date: October 10, 2013
Source: Indiana University, IT News & Events

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana University received a $125,000 grant renewal from the National Institutes of Health for ongoing research into detecting fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, a leading but preventable cause of birth defects.

IU has been engaged in the Collaborative Initiative on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (CIFASD) for more than a decade. IU’s Advanced Visualization Lab (AVL) has worked with IU P. Michael Conneally Professor of Medical and Molecular Genetics and Chancellor’s Professor Tatiana Foroud from the beginning, helping her obtain and operate the technology she needs to recognize fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which can be difficult to diagnose.

“When I first decided to do this study, we wanted to use a 3D camera,” said Foroud, who is Principal Investigator of CIFASD’s 3D facial imaging core. “I’m a geneticist. This is not something I knew how to do. So I talked to the AVL here at Indiana University, and they helped us identify the best 3D camera to use and taught us how to use it and how to train other people to use it, so we can successfully collect images almost anywhere in the world.”

Foroud and her colleagues use the 3dMD cameras to collect facial images of children who had prenatal alcohol exposure. Certain facial features, such as the groove on the upper lip, give researchers insight into what may have happened to the brain during development, Foroud said. Fetal alcohol syndrome is not curable – but, if affected children can be identified early, they can take advantage of behavioral therapies, medications and other interventions that can help them in the long run.

Some of the grant money was used to purchase three new 3dMD cameras, doubling the number of capture sites. Some of the cameras stay in the United States, while others travel to countries like the Ukraine and South Africa. Images are collected of the same children at different ages to see how their faces have changed over time.

“The goal of our research with the 3dMD cameras is to allow us to screen people, identify people who are at high risk, and refer them to a clinician,” Foroud said. “It’s far more cost effective. It lets the clinician focus on the people who have the greatest risk.”

The AVL provides support to the CIFASD project, both locally and at remote capture sites, in the areas of hardware support, troubleshooting, training and custom data processing and analysis software, said Jeff Rogers, AVL principal project analyst and team lead. In addition to Foroud, University College London Professor Peter Hammond collaborates on the project. IU’s AVL team members also process data files for his facial shape analysis research.

In fact, Rogers wrote a program that replicates body measurements of facial landmarks. In the past, a facial dysmorphologist would use calipers and tape measures on a child’s face. Rogers’ program uses 3dMD cameras to take more reliable measurements, thereby providing more valuable diagnostic information to physicians.

“We at the AVL are excited to support this international collaboration with our 3dMD technology,” said Rogers. “There’s been a significant amount of research that indicates the earlier doctors can identify these children, diagnose them, and give them behavioral therapy, the better,” Rogers said. “The project’s ultimate goal is to improve the lives of children around the world, and that’s pretty cool.”

The Indiana University AVL is a unit of the Research Technologies division of University Information Technology Services; Research Technologies is a Pervasive Technology Institute Cyberinfrastructure and Service Center.

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