MAY 30, 2017 1:56 PM PDT

Cause of Death Revealed Through CT Scan

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

An accurate diagnosis is not just for the living. Everyday, pathologists perform autopsies on dead bodies to discover the cause of death - information that can provide closure to families, settle criminal investigations, and potentially warn health officials of any outbreaks.

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, by Rembrandt. Image: wikipedia.org

Yet, how autopsies are conducted need not always be so invasive, say researchers from the UK. Using CT technology, the team say their methods could allow medical examiners to determine the cause of death without cutting open the body at all.

In a standard post-mortem examination, a pathologist meticulously examines the body, externally and internally, to find the cause of death. The internal investigation may involve a Y-shaped incision on the torso, and removal of the chest plate to expose organs in the chest cavity. Pathologists can then remove and examine individual organs, such as the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, for possible cause(s) of death. A typical autopsy takes between two and four hours.

"Over the years, there have been several attempts to develop alternative approaches to the invasive autopsy, to limit the extent to which the cadaver is dissected," said Dr. Guy Rutty, a professor of forensic pathology at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, and lead study author. "Although these techniques have been published, the invasive examination remains the standard adopted approach."

The new postmortem technique relies on computed tomography-angiography, called PMCTA. Instead of cutting open the body, the pathologist inserts a catheter into an artery, and a CT scanner enables viewing of the blood vessels. This technique is designed to pick up arterial blockages due to cholesterol or plaque buildup, a hallmark diagnosis of coronary artery disease.

Because the disease is the leading cause of death of men and women, PMCTA would be suitable as a first line of examination. The team tested the technique in 210 natural deaths and found that PMCTA correctly determined cause of death in 92 percent of these cases. Where PMCTA is negative or inconclusive, pathologists will proceed to traditional autopsy procedures.

"There will always be cases that are more complicated [and] complex and require a thorough, full autopsy examination," said Rutty. But he believes having PMCTA as “part of all autopsy practice,” would help improve the process.

Additional source: Live Science

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
AUG 10, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
New CRISPR Device Diagnoses COVID in an Hour, Detects Variants
AUG 10, 2021
New CRISPR Device Diagnoses COVID in an Hour, Detects Variants
A team of engineers from MIT and Harvard University has developed a COVID diagnostic device with a tiny footprint but hu ...
SEP 30, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
How Babies Look at Objects Linked to Future Autism Diagnoses
SEP 30, 2021
How Babies Look at Objects Linked to Future Autism Diagnoses
At nine months old, most babies have started moving around independently and are curiously exploring the exciting new wo ...
OCT 11, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
A Genetic Risk Factor is Shared by Alzheimer's and Severe COVID-19
OCT 11, 2021
A Genetic Risk Factor is Shared by Alzheimer's and Severe COVID-19
While amyloid plaques are a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease, the neurological disorder has also been linked to inflammat ...
OCT 21, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Dementia Diagnostic Looks for 'Hungry' Immune Cells in the Brain
OCT 21, 2021
Dementia Diagnostic Looks for 'Hungry' Immune Cells in the Brain
Experts have long known that the immune cells in our brains called microglia are important for preserving neural tissue ...
OCT 17, 2021
Technology
How Do People Feel About Facial Recognition Tools In Healthcare?
OCT 17, 2021
How Do People Feel About Facial Recognition Tools In Healthcare?
Facial image data and recognition tools have become a nearly ubiquitous part of our society: we use it to unlock smartph ...
NOV 04, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
The first FDA approved eye drops to treat presbyopia and correct poor near-vision.
NOV 04, 2021
The first FDA approved eye drops to treat presbyopia and correct poor near-vision.
Your Grandma's favorite eyeglasses may soon find their way to the trashcan. Last Friday, October 29th, the United States ...
Loading Comments...