Using 3D facial asymmetry in better diagnosis and treatment of plagiocephaly

A Medical Research Council (MRC) project to research skull abnormalities in children. In collaboration with North Bristol NHS Trust and the London Orthotic Consultancy.

We used innovative 3D imaging techniques to accurately measure the faces and heads of groups of children to look for links between abnormality in head shape and subtle signatures present in facial features.

Our principal focus is a type of cranial disorder known as positional plagiocephaly. Where the two sides of the skull develop inconsistently, so that the shape of the head has an asymmetric, flattened or of other abnormal shape.

Previous research has demonstrated a possible link between deformational plagiocephaly and facial asymmetry. The number of babies diagnosed with plagiocephaly has recently risen sharply from 1 in 300 to about 1 in 60.

When positional plagiocephaly is developing, the anterior portion of one side of the skull and the posterior portion of the opposite side do not grow equally as counterparts. This makes the structure of the skull asymmetric and consequently distorts the shape of the face.

The project has used the Extended Gaussian Image (EGI) representation of shape in order to classify both the extent of cranial deformation and the asymmetry present in a face.

Based on 70 detailed scans, early results show definite signs of correlation between the two metrics and has been able to quantify the improvements made by current treatment techniques.

This project built on the 3D face data capture project, as part of the EPSRC Photoface project. The hope is that the work may eventually help to result in better diagnosis and treatment of plagiocephaly.

It is expected that developing a practical method for assessing 3D face shape and symmetry will also have wider applications, for example in assessing stroke patients or evaluating the surgical outcomes of various facial reconstructive procedures, including cleft palate.

MRC grant no. 85543

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