Medical Minute 11-14: Virtual Autopsy

By: Andrew McIntosh Email
By: Andrew McIntosh Email

Every body tells a story. Secrets from beyond the grave told through this first of its kind tool: a 3-D virtual autopsy table.

First the body is scanned in just three seconds using a dual energy CT scanner, then the corpse becomes a virtual body made up of six gigabytes of information.

"We can look at images again. And do the virtual autopsies many, many times," said Anders Persson M.D., Ph.D. Assoc. Professor, Director Center for Medical Image Science and Visualization (CMIV).

The data then goes to the autopsy table.

"We can navigate inside the body in real time."

Layer by layer in microscopic detail,

"We can change the opacity we can make the skin completely transparent. We can look for muscles, we can look for air."

It's what you can't see with a traditional autopsy that allows the dead to speak. One body was badly burned in a house fire.

"There was no suspicion of crime at all. But we scanned them and we saw fractures that you couldn't explain. But it was murder."

The technology also offers a whole new way to understand diseases.
"We can look for alzheimer's in the brain, multiple sclerosis,"

"It's really really good for heart exams also."

Giving a voice to the dead and hope to the living.

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,


BACKGROUND: Determining cause of death is a time-consuming, expensive procedure that involves careful dissection and examination of the cadaver. Now, there is a new way to determine cause of the death through the use of a 3D Virtual Autopsy table. The Swiss creators of the technology have trademarked the name Virtopsy. The technology uses CT and MR imaging to capture detailed images of cadavers. This enables radiologists to create 3D visualizations that enable pathologists, coroners and medical examiners to investigate the condition of the body for clues to the cause of death and manner of death.
(SOURCE: The Radiology Society of America )

ABOUT THE 3D VIRTUAL AUTOPSY: The forensic reconstruction strategy combines different imaging methods: computed tomography, CT, MR imaging, image guided biopsy, and postmortem angiography, among others, with special database and application software. The postmortem imaging is not new, but with the 3D imaging it has made it more applicable to forensic medicine. Richard Dirnhofer, M.D, is the founder and manager of the Virtopsy project at the University of Bern in Switzerland.
(SOURCE: The Radiology Society of America)

APPLICATION: Through the use of the 3D Virtual autopsy, it will be easier to store images and records so that they can be studied and sent to others. Since it will 3D images through CT and MR imaging, the images can be used in court cases for evidence without the needed having to bring in graphic or disturbing photographs for viewing. Furthermore, the images would be able to be manipulated to enable a variety of understanding, such as the passage of a bullet. It is also easier to verify a series of traumas and injuries such as facial fractures, drowning, and strangulation and gunshot wounds.

Also, the use of the 3D virtual autopsy will have a cultural impact because it does not require destroying the body in order to study it. For example, people of Jewish and Muslim faiths believe most autopsies violate religious laws.

(SOURCE: The Radiology Society of America)


Anders Persson MD, PhD.
Center for Medical Image Science and Visualization (CMIV)

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