Virtual autopsy – Virtopsy; 1st time in Asia at AIIMS, Delhi

(FORENSIC RADIOLOGY DEPARTMENT @ AIIMS)

Virtual autopsy (VIRTOPSY) is a non-invasive examination for forensic practice. It can objectively and accurately reflect fractures, soft tissue injuries, wound extent, and organ damage and provides intuitive and powerful court evidence for forensic identification. Cause of death could ascertain accurately with speed.

Virtopsy technique uses the modern radiographical aids like Computed Tomography (CT) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to scan the dead bodies and obtains a more sensitive, specific, and accurate result than that of the conventional autopsy

A state-of-the-art digital radiological unit, first of its kind in the country has been established at the AIIMSmortuary. In Virtual Autopsy technique, the cause of death is ascertained without the dissection of the body with the help of radiological investigations. Virtopsy is a novel concept that involves a full-body CT and MRI imaging obtained and the results are documented. Certain religions are strongly against traditional autopsy and in few other cases relatives are deeply hurt and undergo mental agony, trauma to go through autopsy procedures as majority of the hospitals s do not have autopsy facilities. Virtopsy is emerging as alternative to conventional autopsy in cases when the next of kin oppose or do not want the body to be dissected and as a complementary tool for better visualization of postmortem findings.

The digital X-ray unit is being used in the department as a powerful tool in the post-mortem examination. It can detect even the minute fractures invisible to the naked eye. The radio-diagnostic technology is less time consuming and promises to be a boon for interpreting findings from imaging studies to aid in Medicolegal Investigations. Radiological studies are instrumental in autopsy cases involving the location of foreign bodies within the body (i.e., bullets, gas emboli) and other mechanical injuries.

The facility of virtual autopsy was started at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi which aims to make the process minimally invasive and more effective. It was inaugurated by ICMR Director, General Dr. Balram Bhargava.

Speaking about the new facility, Dr. Sudhir Gupta, Head of the AIIMS Forensic Department, said it is a step towards dignified management of body.

Dr Gupta said virtual autopsy will be better than physical autopsy and takes just 10 minutes, whereas physical autopsy takes about 4-6 hours to complete. “Virtual autopsies are less time-consuming as compared to traditional post-mortem and are minimally invasive, allowing the body to be released for cremation or burial sooner”.

What are some possible disadvantages of virtual autopsies?

Disadvantages

  • Metal foreign objects.
  • Cannot determine the colour of internal organs and colour changes.
  • Will not determine all the pathological conditions (e.g. inflammation)
  • Cannot determine the infection status of tissue.
  • It is difficult to differentiate antemortem from post-mortem wounds and post-mortem artifacts.

Do you think virtual autopsies will ever replace regular autopsies?

  • Answer: No, because death appears in many ways and forms. A computer would not have the intel to be able to perform an autopsy.

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