Machine Vision Laboratory wins MRC funding

Issue date: 07 July 2008

Example of baby with plagiocephaly Top researchers in the University of the West of England's Machine Vision Laboratory have won a prestigious Medical Research Council (MRC) award to research skull abnormalities in children. The project is a collaboration with North Bristol NHS Trust and the London Orthotic Consultancy. It uses innovative 3D imaging techniques to accurately measure the faces and heads of children and look for links between abnormality in head shape and subtle signatures present in facial features.

A principal focus will be a type of cranial disorder called positional plagiocephaly, where the two sides of the skull develop inconsistently, so that the shape of the head has an asymmetric, flattened or other abnormal shape. Previous research has demonstrated a possible link between deformational plagiocephaly and facial asymmetry. The number of babies diagnosed with plagiocephaly has risen sharply from 1 in 300 to about 1 in 60.

While a mild or moderate plagiocephaly may only represent a cosmetic issue and is not harmful to the baby, when the deformation is more serious or is left untreated it may produce neurological or visual dysfunctions. In all cases, early identification and intervention can significantly improve the treatment of the condition.

Professor Melvyn Smith, Director of the Machine Vision Laboratory, part of the Department of Design and Engineering at UWE's Bristol Institute of Technology, said “We are particularly pleased to win this MRC funding and I hope our work may eventually help to result in better diagnosis and treatment of plagiocephaly, a condition that my own son suffered from.

“This technique would be quicker and easier than other measurement techniques, less traumatic for the baby and less sensitive to baby movements. Developing a practical method for assessing 3D face shape and symmetry could have wider applications, for example in assessing stroke patients or evaluating the surgical outcomes of various facial reconstructive procedures, including cleft palate.”

Dr Lyndon Smith, a Reader in the Vision Laboratory, said: “We want to find out whether it is possible to clearly differentiate between differing medical conditions, such as positional plagiocephaly, ocular plagiocephaly, and torticollis* using easily accessible 3D face measurements.”

Dr John Lanham, Head of Department of Design and Engineering said “The project aims to build upon the developing body of work in 3D face data capture and analysis already underway at UWE as part of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) PhotoFace project.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor John Rushforth said “We are delighted to receive such a high profile award. It will enable us to continue to carry out world-class research that could change lives, leading to better understanding, diagnosis and treatment of an important area of child health. This is the first time the Bristol Institute of Technology has received funding from the Medical Research Council, and strongly reinforces UWE's reputation as a leading new university carrying out research.”

*Ocular plagiocephaly is an asymmetry of the face resulting from a head position adopted to compensate for an eye muscle disorder. Torticollis is a state of excessive of inadequate muscle tone in the muscles in the neck that control the position of the head. It can cause the head to twist and turn to one side, and the head may also be pulled forward or backward


Editor's notes

• The project entitled 'Use of 3D Facial Asymmetry in Better Diagnosis and Treatment of Plagiocephaly' received funding worth £120,244 with a grant to UWE of £96,195 from the Discipline Hopping Grant scheme administered by MRC and jointly funded by MRC, BBSRC and EPSRC.

• The project is a collaboration with Mr Robert Warr, Consultant Plastic Surgeon, and Mr Mike Carter, Consultant Paediatric Neurosurgeon, both based at North Bristol NHS Trust, Frenchay Hospital, and Rachel Whitmore, an orthotist at the London Orthotic Consultancy.

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