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PostPosted: 04 Jan 2015 21:55 
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The Guardian UK reports that UK's first dedicated digital autopsy centre will be opening in Sheffield this week, heralding a potential revolution in the way postmortems are conducted. Three-dimensional visualisation software and a scanner will take the place of a scalpel at the £3m facility, attached to the city's public mortuary, the first of a planned network of 18 in England and Wales.

The non-invasive process is intended to be less harrowing for relatives who have lost a loved one and speedier than a traditional postmortem, allowing the body to be released for burial or cremation sooner.

Using a virtual scalpel the pathologist can rotate the image and peel away layers of the body, right down to the skeleton as well as look inside the organs. Within three-and-a-half minutes of the corpse being placed on the CT scanner, a 3D representation of the body, made up of approximately 3,400 slices of 0.5mm each, is available to the pathologist on a computer screen and saved to a secure file. On a second screen the pathologist can mark any areas of interest in red for subsequent viewers of the case file. On a third screen, where necessary, the scene of death or crime can also be reconstructed digitally in 3D, using panoramic photos taken at the scene.

Professor Peter Vanezis, a Home Office consultant forensic pathologist and chief medical officer for iGene, said: "Where there has to be an autopsy, it gets to places where pathologists can't get to easily, or if they do, they have to mutilate the body quite badly." Vanezis admitted some of his fellow pathologists are sceptical, and said digital autopsy would not be suitable in about 25% of cases, including where the cause of death could be poisoning and blood samples are required. The coroner will decide in each case whether it is appropriate and if the family of the deceased want to go ahead they will have to pay £500 except where the coroner orders a digital autopsy to be carried out because a crime is suspected, in which case there will be no cost to the family.

The iGene technology has been under development in Malaysia for 12 years, where the company's first and – until now – only digital autopsy centre opened in 2010 and has been used in more than 3,500 autopsies. In the past, some Muslims and Jews in the UK who object to invasive traditional postmortems have been given the option of paying for an autopsy to be carried out by a radiologist at a hospital using an MRI scan.

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