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3D technology could help surgeons when operating on kids’ faces

Lucie van den Berg, April 20, 2017 5:30PM Herald Sun

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FACIAL surgery is a tricky business, especially on children that are not yet fully grown but Melbourne researchers are developing a technique that could change the face of paediatric* surgery.

The new development will allow doctors to work out a child’s normal face shape at different ages to predict future growth, which could provide revolutionary* outcomes to children’s surgery.

Researchers at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and overseas experts could soon replace the ruler currently used to track changes to a child’s head and face with automated* 3D images.

The new technology will be able to analyse how a child’s face will grow over time. media_cameraThe new technology will be able to analyse how a child’s face will grow over time.

By improving the ability to predict normal growth and future changes in a child’s face, surgeons will be able to better design their operations.

MCRI’s Mr Harold Matthews said current methods, including using patients’ photographs and X-rays were slow, time-consuming and lacked accuracy*.

Together with experts in Belgium, Mr Matthews is pioneering* a new tool that provides averages for normal growth of the face throughout childhood.

Using photographs of 1200 Victorian children, Mr Matthews said they will develop a “normal reference* population” that could be used to determine* if a child is growing normally.

The next step is to develop a model that will predict normal head and facial growth and use it to assess a patient’s growth.

3D scan of a head. Picture: supplied media_camera3D scan of a head. Picture: supplied

The project aims to take some of the guesswork out of surgery.

For example, in children with Pierre Robin Sequence, a rare condition which means they are born with an underdeveloped jaw, some surgeons choose to operate early to fix it while others wait to see if the child’s face will correct itself as it grows.

Without this new technology, it is unclear which approach is better for each child.

In circumstances where surgeons use fat grafts* to ‘rebuild’ a child’s face, it would be helpful to know how the face would have grown without the intervention.

“Without objective measures of normal growth and deviations* from normality, it is impossible to answer these, and many other related questions, that are essential for optimising* surgical practice and outcomes in children,” he said.

The techniques could eventually have broader applications beyond the medicine, including “growing a face” by taking an image and applying the normal rate of change over several years to the photograph to produce an image in missing persons cases.

It could also be used to pinpoint the age of refugees who arrive in new countries without records or documents.


paediatric: relating to children’s medicine

revolutionary: change causing

automated: using automatic systems

accuracy: exactness

pioneering: new

reference: source

determine: figure out

grafts: transplanted bit of living tissue

deviations: alternates

optimising: maximising



Activity 1. 3D images

Read or listen to the article carefully before answering these questions.

1. What is this article about? Summarise the main point of this article in 2 or 3 sentences.

2. Who is involved in the research?

3. Why is this new development important for facial surgery?

4. What other uses could this technology have?

Extension: Interview the expert!

Imagine you had the opportunity to interview Mr Harold Matthews.

Think of five questions you could ask him about this new development.

Can you make a prediction of what some of his answers might be?

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: English, Science, Design and Technology

Activity 2. We all change as we age

It is normal for our faces to change as we get older.

If possible find a photo of yourself as a baby or of when you started school and a photo of you now.

Look closely at both photos.

How have you changed?

Make a list of the things that are different and what is the same.


If you cannot access photos of yourself you can make a list of general facial changes that happen to people as you get older and the approximate ages they happen.


Draw a picture of what you might look like in 20 years.

List the changes that you predict will happen.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: English, Science


(Vocabulary, Connectives, Openers and Punctuation)

Choose a sentence from the article and remove the punctuation. Write down on a note what you removed.

Make punctuation cards for the different pieces of punctuation you removed.

Now create a new sentence about what you think of the new facial recognition and growth software. Your challenge is to use the punctuation you stole from the article sentence to create your new sentence. Can you do it?


Swap your punctuation cards with another person and see if you can create a new sentence with their punctuation.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum Links: English, Big Write and VCOP

Activity provided by Andrell Education







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