Imagine being able to see inside the body during pregnancy, with the model of the baby on a computer screen. Now, researchers are developing a computer program that will assist pregnant mothers in determining whether their births may be dangerous or unusual by developing a virtual birthing simulator, which will give doctors and midwives a 3D view of the mother’s body.
Though such programs have been developed in the past, the new one brings physics into the equation as well, able to simulate forces occurring in the mother's abdomen. “Users will be able to input key anatomical data, such as the size and shape of the mother’s pelvis, and the baby’s head and torso,” Dr. Rudy Lapeer, a computer scientist at the University of East Anglia, said in a news release. “By doing this, you will be able to set different bespoke scenarios for both the mother and baby.”
Though doctors and hospitals have found ways to simulate births since the 1800s, most simulators are based on known scenarios, Dr. Lapeer told LiveScience. A previous birth simulator developed in 2011 and called the PREDIBIRTH, for example, was able to turn MRIs of pregnant mothers into 3D simulations of the pelvis and fetus. The PREDIBIRTH was able to create a “score” that showed the woman’s chance of having a healthy birth. But the new program would simulate the physical forces from the cervix, abdomen as well as from the doctor or midwife.
It's a form of personalized medicine, in a way. It is patient-specific, meaning doctors would be able to see, on a case-by-case basis, whether a baby’s shoulders may get stuck while being born, for example. The virtual birthing simulator would be aware of the size and shape of the mother’s body, as well as the baby’s position, which may predict birth outcomes for that particular patient — and essentially create an interactive, 3D model of the child’s skull and body, along with the mother’s body and pelvis. Computer scientists have also taken into account the mother’s pushing force during labor, and have found a way to model the midwife’s virtual hands that may interact with the baby’s head.
“You can’t see inside during a live birth,” Dr. Lapeer told LiveScience. “The simulator shows you what’s happening inside.” It would assist doctors and midwives in training, as well, as they currently use mannequins or watch live births to learn; a 3D virtual tour inside the womb could show them how the infant is moving and situated inside the mother.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a woman dies every minute from pregnancy or childbirth-related consequences — up to 287,000 women per year. The WHO states that 15 percent of childbirths “need emergency obstetric care because of risks that are difficult to predict.” The computer scientists honing the new 3D program hope it can be used to mitigate some of these dangerous risks.
“We hope that this could help to avoid complicated births altogether by guiding people in the medical profession to advise on Caesarean sections where necessary,” Dr. Lapeer said in the news release.