For Blind Moms, 3-D Prints of Fetuses Stand In for Sonogram Images

One company is trying to give those women a tactile equivalent to the sonogram, by 3-D printing their fetus for them

Ryan Christie

One of the greatest joys of pregnancy for many women is seeing the little blob growing inside on a sonogram—the black and white images of little heads and feet and noses the first of many pictures to make it to Facebook or a privileged place on the fridge. Now, one company is trying to give blind women who miss out on this experience a tactile equivalent, by 3-D printing their fetuses for them.

Jorge Roberto Lopes dos Santos is the man behind the little fetus figurines. He didn’t set out to help blind women; the work comes out of his company, Tecnologia Humana 3D, which focuses more broadly on building 3-D models from sonogram data to help diagnose problems prenatally. Morgen Peck at Tech Page One writes:

Tecnologia Humana designs the models with sophisticated programs that produce highly detailed simulations of a fetus’ anatomy that doctors can examine virtually.

They can swoop through the lungs and explore the cavities of the heart in search of problems that may require intervention. Prior journeys have found Down syndrome and cleft lip, dos Santos said in a recent paper.

It wasn’t until later that he realized that the models could help women who cannot see sonograms, a chance to “see” their unborn babies. It’s not cheap yet. The whole shebang, from the MRI to the CT scan to the printing, costs about $200 for a full model of a 12-week-old fetus, and $300 for just the face once the fetus is 24 weeks old. But for many that’s worth it to get the feeling so many sighted mothers get when they see their little bundle of cells moving about for the first time.

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