For many expecting parents, the moment they first see a sonogram of their fetus is the moment everything becomes real. There's just something truly profound about being able to actually see your baby in the womb, with its little arms and legs and nose. But this landmark event in the course of a pregnancy remains inaccessible to blind parents. That is, until now.

A new technological breakthrough will soon make it possible for doctors to print out sonograms as life-size, 3D replicas-- essentially, models of the fetus in utero-- for parents to touch and to hold, according to The three-dimensional models would allow blind parents to "see" sonograms of their babies for the first time.

The technology is being developed by a company called Tecnologia Humana 3D, which has been working with medical researchers to build three-dimensional computer models from the data retrieved using a variety of imaging techniques. Such models can be invaluable tools that help doctors diagnose and treat potential ailments that don't always show up clearly in conventional print-outs. Tecnologia Humana's founder, Jorge Roberto Lopes dos Santos, realized that the technology, if applied to sonograms, could revolutionize how parents-to-be first get to interact with their babies.

“We work mainly to help physicians when there is some eventual possibility of malformation,” dos Santos said. “We also work for parents who want to have the models of their fetuses in 3D.”

The models are printed out using a specialized 3D-printer that lays down successive layers of material. The process also requires sophisticated software that can analyze the data from conventional imaging techniques and translate that into 3D. The models are so detailed that doctors can use them to actually explore the fetus' body virtually. For instance, they can swoop inside to examine the lungs or cavities of the heart to search for any potential maladies or deformations. Doctors have already used the technique to identify conditions like Down Syndrome and cleft lip.

Dos Santos hopes that by keeping the cost down the technology will be accessible to the majority of would-be parents. Medical costs are a concern for many parents, but especially for young parents who are financially preparing for their first baby. But the good news is that it should only cost about $200 for a life-size replica of a fetus at 12 weeks, and about $300 for a fetus at 24 weeks. The trick will be getting insurance companies to cover the expense.

You can view the technology in action, and what the 3D models of fetuses look like, by watching videos provided by Tecnologia Humana at their website here.

Bryan Nelson ( @@brynelson ) writes about everything from environmental problems here on Earth to big questions in space.

3D sonogram allows expecting parents to hold a model of their fetus
The 3D fetus models could allow blind parents "see" sonograms of their babies for the first time.