The UK's first digital autopsy facility has opened in Sheffield, using CT scanning and 3D visualisation software to create digital reconstructions of dead bodies.
We already knew that a CT scan could be used to create a 3D reconstruction of the inside of the human body, such as artist Caspar Bergman's reconstruction of his own skeleton using 3D printing, but one Malaysian entrepreneur has a rather more practical application for the technology. Mathavan Chandran of iGene has created Infopsy, a system for scanning and re-creating the human body for the purpose of autopsy.
The technology has been in development since 2001, and the first, and heretofore only, facility opened up in Malaysia in 2010, where it has been used for over 3500 autopsies. Now, the first £3 million Infopsy Digital Autopsy Facility (iDAF) is to be opened in the UK — the first of 18 planned facilities.
Bodies are placed in a CT scanner and scanned in 0.5-millimetre slices. These are then used to re-create the body in a 3D visualisation program. Coroners will be able to then perform a non-invasive autopsy, peeling back the layers using a digital scalpel without having to worry about damaging delicate parts of the body, biohazards or clean-up. On a second screen, they can flag areas of interest in red for future reference, and a third screen can be used to reconstruct the scene of death in 3D.
Of course, a digital autopsy won't be appropriate in every situation — when toxicology reports are necessary, for example. This is to be determined by coroners on a case-by-case basis.
"There are approximately 550,000 deaths recorded in the UK each year, of which more than 200,000 are subjected to post-mortem, and it is expected that in the future, digital autopsies will account for 70 per cent of these," iGene wrote in a press release (PDF). "Construction of the first facility, at Sheffield's Medico-Legal Centre, will be completed in November 2013 and will be operated by Sheffield City Council."
It's also expected that the technology will be able to help families who have objected to invasive autopsies on religious grounds. Each digital autopsy will cost the family £500 (around AU$895), except in cases where a crime is suspected to have been committed.
You can read more about the technology here (PDF).