Lots of expecting couples get ultrasounds of their babies, and even take the grainy black-and-white pictures home. Now a clinic in Japan is offering models of the fetus, using 3-D printing technology.
Fasotec, an engineering company and Parkside Hiroo Ladies clinic have teamed up to offer the service since July 30. The way it works is similar to an ultrasound, but in this case they use MRI scans. (X rays can be harmful to a developing fetus). The next step is a technology called Bio-Texture modeling, which converts the MRI data and into a 3-D image. A 3-D printer builds up the three-dimensional image using two different resins that produce two different colors. The result is a fetus represented in a creamy color surrounded by the mother's tissue, represented as transparent (see image above).
The resolution of the image isn't perfect — but the clinics say that many expectant mothers are delighted by the service, which costs 100,000 yen (about $1,200 at current exchange rates), not including the cost of the MRI.
For those who would like a less-pricey version, the company will start
offering a 3-D model of the face of the fetus for half that price at 50,000 yen in December.
The technology is about more than providing mementos to mothers, though. Fasotec says the printer can output 3-D models of organs, as well, which could be used to train physicians. In fact, the fetus-printing idea was a spin-off the company is using to publicize the more general organ-imaging it does.