Smartphone scanning set to revolutionise treatment of ear conditions

Pictured: Professor Mia Woodruff, Acting QUT Director of Herston Biofabrication Institute with PhD student Maureen Ross, demonstrating the possibility of creating affordable prosthetics for children with under-developed ears or microtia using advanced 3D scanning and printing technology.

Around one in 5,000 babies[1] are born worldwide with a malformation of the outer ear, a condition known as microtia. It can cause severe emotional and psychosocial distress for children, if there€'s no intervention. The new Herston Biofabrication Institute partners Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in collaboration with Metro North Hospital and Health Services and Hear and Say are using smartphone technology to make treatment easier than ever before.

At the moment, microtia is treated via surgical reconstruction using autografted rib cartilage, surgical implantation of an alloplastic device, or the use of a personalised silicone prosthesis (removable). The MTPConnect-supported research team is taking an everyday device such as a smartphone and turning it into a 3D scanner to obtain images of children’s ears. It’s an approach that will allow a personalised prosthesis to be created; converting the scan to an accurate 3D model for silicone ear prostheseis.

As 3D scanning and printing techniques often require the use of expensive scanners, this project has developed a more feasible method to deliver the most desired outcome to reduce scan times and costs.

Here’s how they’ve done it.

The Institute obtained scans of adults’ ears from three commonly used devices, Artec – an expensive handheld scanner and used as a point of reference for results collected, RealSense – a low cost handheld scanner and an iPhone 7(2,3). The following parameters were compared, receiving different results:

  • Scan time – both iPhone 7 and Artec recorded a scan time of approximately two minutes.
  • Accuracy of scan – the scans obtained from iPhone 7 were 22% more accurate than the low-cost handheld scanner.
  • Completeness (measured as the percentage of scanned data that corresponded to scans from the Artec) – scans obtained from the iPhone 7 ranged from 74% – 80% completeness depending on the number of photos taken, while the low-cost scanner only achieved a completeness of 47%.

Acting QUT Director of Herston Biofabrication Institute, Professor Mia Woodruff, says this project aims to improve patient outcomes by reducing the psychological stress experienced by children living with Microtia.

“The funding from MTPConnect has enabled us to compare different types of scanners and develop a frugal scanning technology using a widely available device such as a smartphone,” Prof Mia Woodruff says.

“This scanning technology coupled with the 3D ear modelling software that we are developing will enable medical practitioners to provide patients with a lower cost alternative for prosthetic ears.”

Hear and Say’s Executive Director and Founder, Dr Dimity Dornan, says this project has a lot of “potential” to bring treatment to rural and remote areas in Australia.

“The ability to scan ears using something as simple as a smartphone and then be able to print an accurate 3D ear model holds great potential for how ear prosthesis will be created in the future,” Dr Dimity Dornan adds.

“This technology will certainly improve accessibility to treatment in remote places.”

The technology being developed by the Herston Biofabrication Institute project will enable more patients, no matter where they live, to access better treatment options. And while the project’s focus is to treat patients with ear malformation, the methodology is applicable to other parts of the body and for use in mainstream healthcare.

For more information, visit The Herston Biofabrication Institute or the published articles can be viewed below.

1 Luquetti, D. V., Leoncini, E., and Mastroiacovo, P., 2011. Microtia-anotia: a global review of prevalence rates. Birth Defects Research Part A: Clinical and Molecular Teratology, 91 (9), 813–822. Retrieved on 10 December 2018

2 Ross MT, Cruz R, Brooks-Richards TL, Hafner LM, Powell SK, Woodruff MA. Smartphones for frugal three-dimensional scanning of the external ear with application to microtia. Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery. 2018; 71(9):1362-80.

3 Ross MT, Cruz R, Brooks-Richards TL, Hafner LM, Powell SK, Woodruff MA. Comparison of three-dimensional scanning techniques for capturing the external ear. Virtual and Physical Prototyping. 2018; 13(4):255-65.