Analysis of3D facial to fight disease

Taylar AmoniniNorth West Telegraph

Pilbara Aboriginal children will receive quicker diagnosis and treatment for foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and other rare diseases under a world-first health project launched last week.

Port Hedland has been the first regional centre to receive the green light for the world-leading Pilbara Faces project which aims to identify rare diseases and syndromes that manifest in the face.

Combing non-invasive 3-D facial photographs and innovative medical technology, the project will build the world’s first library of photographs of Aboriginal children’s faces in a unique knowledge base to assist in medical diagnosis, treatment monitoring and clinical research.

Spearheaded by Genetic Services WA teams at Perth’s King Edward Memorial and Princess Margaret Hospitals, project leader Dr Gareth Baynam said the 3-D images could identify subtle variations in facial contours, often imperceptible to the naked eye, which could be markers of disease.

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“Our face is a biological billboard that advertises our physical and mental wellness, our ageing and our disease,” he said.

“Approximately one-third of genetic and rare diseases are thought to have subtle facial clues, so harnessing these through 3-D facial analysis will provide a new way to improve diagnosis and treatment.”

With specialists estimating there are up to 8000 rare diseases, Dr Baynam said they affected about one in 12 Australians, or the equivalent of 190,000 West Australians.

They include conditions such as muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, and early-onset Alzheimer’s, which can have devastating effects not only on sufferers and their families but also on the State’s health system.

While some may hope the 20-minute non-invasive test and analysis will mean diagnosis will be possible using just a photograph, Dr Baynam said the process would be a little more complex. “The reality is it is not going to be — certainly in the near future — that you take a photo and it gives you an exact diagnosis,” he said.

“For the technology to work its best and be most equitable we need to understand the ranges of normal. If we can understand what’s normal, then we can understand what’s not and that’s the basis of a diagnosis.” To establish a reference profile and database, the technology will be based at Hed-land Senior High School and will also be taken to remote Pilbara communities through consultation with local government agencies.

The program was made possible by the Roy Hill Community Foundation in partnership with Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation after funding was secured in 2016.

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