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Faculty of Environment

Archaeology lab plays special role in child’s ear reconstruction

October 30, 2023

When Hugo Cardoso received a unique request from a B.C. family needing assistance with their daughter’s ear reconstruction surgery, he was happy to help by offering the use of his lab’s specialized technology.

Cardoso leads Simon Fraser University’s Juvenile Osteology Group (JUNO) research lab, named after Juno, the Roman goddess and protector of children. As an archaeology professor and co-director of the Centre for Forensic Research, his work focuses on studying human remains using advanced technical tools such as a high-resolution 3D scanner.

The family, from Nelson, B.C., needed a specialized scan of their five-year-old daughter Zillah’s fully developed ear that would be sent to California-based surgeon Sheryl Lewin of Lewin Ear Reconstruction, to create an implant that would be applied to her ear, affected by a condition known as microtia. The procedure will allow Zillah to “have a big ear like mommy,” as explained on her gofundme page.

Lewin connected with the SFU lab after reaching out to the supplier of the Artec Space Spider, the specialized scanner, seeking to find one in B.C.

“Although the equipment was purchased for specific purposes related to my work involving human remains, from various contexts and situations, I’m happy to contribute in helping families like Zillah’s family,” says Cardoso, who also chairs the archaeology department.

JUNO Lab undergraduate research assistant Nicola Murray says the scanner works by taking a series of pictures that are processed into a 3D computer image. 

“It’s a pretty handy unit that is able to calculate the measurements of each part of the object based on the distortion that the light projects,” Murray explains. “The light will project a pattern on the person or object that we can’t see and, based on how much the object distorts the light, the camera can calculate distances and create topographies.”

Murray ensured no angle or detail would be missed to create an accurate model of Zillah’s ear. Once the scan was processed, the files were sent to the surgeon along with photos to provide a visual reference of the ear alongside a ruler displaying measurements.

Zillah’s parents, both SFU alumni, plan to share updates with Murray and Cardoso after Zillah undergoes surgery. They are grateful for the support they’ve received and presented the research team with a handmade thank-you card, a gift from Zillah.

Cardoso is open to future requests to help those who may benefit from the use of the lab’s technology. “We were asked by the surgeon to be listed as someone that other families can resort to in similar situations, so I’m curious to see what happens next,” says Cardoso. “This is not part of my work but I’m happy to look at individual requests.”