3D Tech Is More Than Building Cool Models – Here’s How Doctors Are Using It to Treat a Rare Facial Condition

3D Tech Is More Than Building Cool Models – Here’s How Doctors Are Using It to Treat a Rare Facial Condition
Image: iStock

Researchers in Australia and Singapore are using 3D facial analysis technology to help identify, understand and, hopefully, eventually treat a rare genetic disorder.

This news comes by way of Curtin University and is a collaboration between the university, Takeda Global, SingHealth, the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Western Australia, and FrontierSI.

But just what is the genetic disorder researchers are trying to analyse? Well, it’s called Hereditary Angioedema (HAE). It’s a disorder that causes facial swelling (and swelling on some other parts of the body). It affects one in 50,000 people, or 300 million people globally.

As Curtin University notes, the only clinical descriptions of the disorder are subjective. There’s no set-in-stone scientific definition for HAE that can be applied to someone easily, and it’s instead applied on a subjective basis.

The goal of this research is, largely, to understand it better and to establish an objective understanding of the disorder. With an objective understanding established, doctors will be able to treat severity, recovery and onset attacks with better treatment, hopefully aiding with the initial diagnosis.

The technology works by compiling the 3D facial images of 900 people with 50 facial measurements extracted from each image. Much like the facial recognition features on your smartphone, the technology identifies key points of the face. Newly analysed faces would be sent to the Cliniface team at Curtin University, allowing the team to generate research models. Researchers will observe for variances in parts of the face in identifying HAE.

As a part of this, clinicians at SingHealth, the largest group of healthcare institutions in Singapore, will be trained to capture and analyse faces using Curtin University’s Cliniface software program. That is the program functioning as the backbone of this research.

Expanding on this, specialists at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Singapore will use the technology to provide targeted therapies to children diagnosed with HAE.

“We have been working diligently with our partners Curtin University and WA’s North Metropolitan Health Service (NMHS) to develop the Cliniface platform to deliver an equitable and accessible digital health solution and this ground-breaking research will ensure translation into clinical practice,” said Dr Graeme Kernich, CEO of FrontierSI.

“Congratulations to the Cliniface team at Curtin University and NMHS, and the visionaries at Takeda and SingHealth for their collaboration and belief in this innovative global body of work.”

“The agreement is exciting news,” said Professor Gareth Bayman, Cliniface and study clinical lead, who’s also the head of the Western Australian Register of Developmental Anomalies at King Edward Memorial Hospital.

“After years of trials using our Cliniface technology to demonstrate that we can produce reference statistics of 3D facial norms, we will expand this to include the Singapore population to support more advanced, accessible and equitable diagnosis and monitoring of rare diseases in our Asia Pacific region.”

It’ll be interesting to see this 3D facial disorder analysis technology develop over time.