Using medical imaging to conduct a virtual autopsy
Medical imaging was designed to help doctors make the right diagnosis and develop the proper treatment plan for patients. Advancements in the field save more lives every day. But what about when a life has already been lost? Now medical imaging can be used to find out how and why the person died.
At the Center for Medical Image Science and Visualization (CMIV) in Sweden, doctors use medical imaging to conduct virtual autopsies. Their work was featured on a recent episode of PBS’s science documentary series NOVA.
When a person has recently died and an autopsy needs to be performed, especially in a situation in which the police suspect foul play but have no way of proving it, a virtual autopsy is often the best solution. Without ever leaving the body bag, the body can be scanned using both a CT and an MRI. These scans are merged to create a 3D model of the suspected murder victim, which can then be used to conduct a virtual autopsy.
Using a virtual knife, doctors can delve into various parts of the body closely, looking for things like bone fractures that are invisible to the naked eye. They can also see gases that would would have escaped the body during a normal autopsy. If gasses are found trapped inside, it could be a sign that the person was strangled to death. If anything suspicious is found, they can bring in police to further study the evidence and decide whether the person was murdered.
The technique has been so useful that a portable application is currently being designed. Basically the portable application is a giant iPad – using simple hand motions, doctors can peel back skin, arteries, or even bone to get a better look. Similar gestures can be used to rotate the images, zoom in and out, and more.
The virtual autopsy could be a huge leap forward in forensic science. One thing they will need, however, is a way to manage, view and share the medical images. A cloud-based medical image exchange solution such as the one offered by DICOM Grid makes it easy for different people in different locations to securely access the images on different devices. This type of instant access is crucial for police and investigators who are trying to solve a murder.