Digital Autopsy – an innovative technique designed to replace the century-old post-mortem examination – has been introduced in Kuala Lumpur and will arrive to the UK within months.
Connecting a conventional CT or MRI scanner to a 3D imaging software tool developed by Malaysian company iGene, pathologists can display and examine cadavers in a much cleaner fashion than conventional scalpel-based methods allow.
Using a large touchscreen to display the body's 3D image, they can zoom into areas of the corpse they want to study in greater detail and remove layers of clothes and tissues without having to cut them.
The man behind the project, Malaysian entrepreneur Matt Chandran, believes Digital Autopsy will prove cheaper, faster, more efficient and more respectful to emotions of relatives of the deceased.
The entrepreneur said the market potential of the device is enormous as about 10 per cent of 70 million people who die each year around the world require autopsy due to medical or legal concerns. "That's a huge number, so we're of the view that this is a major line of services that is shaping up around the world," he said.
Building on the legacy of radiology, iGene, though not the first to perform digital autopsy, claims to be the only company so far to offer a full-package tool that is ready to be sold commercially. The world’s first ever virtual autopsy was conducted in Israel in 1994 and the US military has been doing CT scans of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2004.
In the upcoming months, the company plans to bring its first Digital Autopsy suite to Britain, installing it in a morgue in Sheffield in October. The company wants to invest nearly £50m to build facilities in the UK and believes the investment would pay off as many bereaved might find digital autopsy more respectful to the remains of their loved ones.
Every time a coroner requires an autopsy to be performed on a body, relatives of the deceased will be given an option of either subjecting the corpse to a conventional procedure free of charge, or opt for the digital autopsy for £500.
However, some experts remain sceptical whether digital technology is mature enough to fully replace the conventional procedure, citing its limited ability to identify certain diseases as the main weakness.
"There are centres providing such services, but others have been more cautious and are still at a research stage," said Guy Rutty, chief forensic pathologist at the University of Leicester and one of pioneers of digital autopsy techniques in the UK.
Though iGene admits there is still room for improvement, the company remains committed to a digital future.
“The future will be for smaller companies who are bringing a service for this niche," Chandran said. "The most important thing is that you have a real chain based on IT."
In the future, Chandran believes, 3D scans might become an integral part of regular medical check-ups, creating a huge digital library of every person present and future.
"Just like a birth certificate starts with the birth of a baby, the end of a person's life will end with a report in which the 3D body of a person is captured," he said. "In that way we can archive every person born on this planet."