New software may help solve the problem of the 700 genetic syndromes that affect facial traits say scientists. These are difficult to spot because very few cases exist and the new software will serve as a panacea for the ailing patients.
The technology, presented at the BA Festival of Science in York, compares an individual's face with a bank of 3D images of people with known conditions. According to scientists, the technology has shown 90 per cent of success rate.
"There are many conditions where the face can have unusual features arising from alterations in the genes," the BBC quoted Peter Hammond, a computer scientist at the UCL Institute for Child Health in London who carried out the research, as saying.
Collecting 3D images of children with known problem, Prof. Hammond has created software that combines the images to create an "average face" of a child with different genetic conditions. He has also built up the average face of a child with no known genetic disorder for comparison.
Prof. Hammond has revealed that each composite image is made up of between 30 to 150 images.
"When we have a child with an unknown condition, we take a 3D picture of their face and we have developed techniques that allow us to compare their face with these averages," he said.
"And the one that is the most similar is the prime target as the condition that might explain their unusual facial features. Then the geneticists can do the more appropriate genetic testing, if such a test exists, to further confirm this," he added.
He further said that he is collecting more images to encompass even more genetic conditions.
Prof. Hammond strongly believes that his software will speed up diagnosis, and reduce the number of genetic tests a child may need. He is currently using the technology at his hospital in London, and wants that it be used across the UK.
The researcher has used the software to examine the facial characteristics of people with autism spectrum disorder, and identified unusual facial asymmetry in children with the condition.
According to him, these children are more likely to have a slight protrusion of the right temple, possibly reflecting a larger area of the brain known as the right frontal pole.
Prof. Hammond is now planning to compile enough data to build average images of genetic diseases for different sexes and ethnicities.