Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Digital Autopsy – Soon Scanners will Replace Scalpels

There has been considerable publicity generated regarding the analysis of the “Virtual Mummy” at the British Museum in year 2004. The technique which was used to visualize and analyze the mummified remains of people who died thousands of years ago and it is only a small leap of faith to envisage these and similar techniques being utilized to answer questions about the bodies of people who died only hours or days ago. This is the concept behind Digital visualization technology or commercially promoted as Digital Autopsy by INFOVALLEY.

Digital Autopsy – an innovative technique designed to replace the century-old post-mortem examination – has been introduced in Kuala Lumpur and will arrive to the UK within months.

Connecting a conventional CT or MRI scanner to a 3D imaging software tool developed by Malaysian company iGene, pathologists can display and examine cadavers in a much cleaner fashion than conventional scalpel-based methods allow.
Using a large touchscreen to display the body's 3D image, they can zoom into areas of the corpse they want to study in greater detail and remove layers of clothes and tissues without having to cut them.

Concept of Digital Autopsy:
Digital autopsy software exploits the power of existing 2D and 3D imaging and visualization equipment to observe and investigate the human body using high definition imagery.

The man behind this project’s concept, Malaysian entrepreneur Matt Chandran, CEO of iGene, a subsidiary of the InfoValley Group, believes Digital Autopsy will prove cheaper, faster, more efficient and more respectful to emotions of relatives of the deceased.

He believes his so-called digital autopsy could largely displace the centuries-old traditional knife-bound one, speeding up investigations, reducing the stress on grieving families and placating religious sensibilities. He is confident there’s money in what he calls his Autopsy as a Service, and hopes to launch the first of at least 18 digital autopsy facilities in Britain in October, working closely with local authorities.


As per chandran, reducing family trauma and “placating religious sensibilities” are key driving factors in move toward minimally invasive autopsies. Other benefits include secure retrieval of data, both binary and 3D imaging, from central servers as well as the ability for law courts, forensic centers and hospitals to easily access that data. There is also the capacity to gear the digital autopsy platform to educating medical professionals and students in simulated diagnostics.

Whilst autopsy rates have drastically fallen since the 1950’s when 60 percent of deaths were investigated on the slab, there are still autopsies carried out in 10-20 percent of deaths. In America alone, there are over 100,000 malpractice suits filed every year that require investigation. Autopsies are carried out, usually by pathologists, for either legal or medical reasons. A forensic autopsy is undertaken if the cause of death indicates a possible crime has been committed. Clinical or academic autopsies are authorized to ascertain the medical cause of death and used in cases when the cause of death is unknown or for research purposes.

Additional non-invasive diagnostic tools such as angiography and toxicology are also integrated into the digital autopsy facility which uses existing medical scanners from the likes of Siemens, General Electric, Toshiba and Philips. Chandran plans to open 18 facilities in England starting in October 2013, positioning them close to UK mortuaries. He plans to charge $780 (£500) for the service which would be optional over a state paid traditional autopsy.

A typical up-to-date MSCT scanner either Computerized Tomography (CT/CAT) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) costs in the region of $80,000 to $300,000 and can go up in price to $1.2 million depending on features. iGene has indicated that it will invest up to $77 million in the project and has received funding from Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM) to the tune of $22.7 million.

There are skeptics to the digital autopsy but Chandran has big dreams including the possibility of scanning every living soul that goes in for a medical checkup. Waiting six weeks to get a MRI scan from the National Health Service (NHS) in UK and another month for the results is not unheard of, giving rise to potential spinoffs beyond the scope of the digital autopsy.

Benefits of Digital Autopsy:
There are loads of benefits in Digital Autopsy. Those includes following:
  • The visualization techniques to autopsy enable Forensic Pathologists or Forensic Experts to observe conditions that may be difficult or impossible to detect by classical means.
  • Digital Autopsy produce detailed records that show conclusively the cause or manner of death. These records can be kept intact and free of human intervention.
  • Digital Autopsy can ease the burden of determining identity and cause of death in victims of mass natural disasters, particularly in cases where large number of bodies are badly decomposed.
  • Digital bodies can be sent to forensic pathologists who can conduct autopsies remotely.
  • In the wake of a biological contamination or biological terrorist attack, Digital Autopsy can be extremely valuable in determining further investigation that are necessary to identify the pathogenesis while at the same time protecting forensic pathologist from accidental exposure to the biological contaminant.
  • Digital Autopsy streamlines communication between forensic pathologists as well as allowing forensic pathologist to seek professional second opinion with experts abroad through a secured channel, digitally.
  • Interactive visualizations are often easier for juries, lawyers and other court officers with a clearer understanding of the autopsy process, which can be vital when the manner of death must be established in a court case.
  • From the religious point of view, Digital Autopsy provides an option to treat the deceased with dignity while at the same time achieve the medico-legal requirement.

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