Swedish researchers have developed an interactive touchscreen 3D autopsy table that allows pathologists to examine virtual representations of real bodies in minute detail and from numerous viewing angles. Using data provided by scans of an actual body, the table allows the user to remove layers such as skin and muscle, add or remove tissue and circulatory systems, zoom in and out and cut through sections with a virtual knife. The video below is a "must watch".

The Virtual Autopsy Table has been developed by Norrköping Visualization Center in cooperation with Center for Medical Image Science and Visualization using science and technology that is already being used in real world criminal investigation to complement real autopsies.

Explore the human body

The victim's body is placed on an examination table under a CT scanner and/or MRI machine and processed using software developed by the researchers. A CT scan takes only 20 seconds and displays the bones, gases and any foreign objects in the body. A specially-developed technique known as quantative synthetic MRI allows for scanning of dead bodies and provides data on soft tissue. The software converts the layer by layer data sets provided by the scans and builds a 3D virtual visualization of the victim's body.

The visualization allows an examiner to look at a body in microscopic detail. Going inside the body is simply a matter of removing the virtual skin and muscle layers to reveal the skeleton and organs. The examiner can zoom in and out, view cross-sections using a virtual scalpel and control the level of layer transparency with relative ease.

Whereas an actual invasive autopsy can take some time to complete, the cause of death using a virtual autopsy could be established in as little as 15 minutes. Examining injuries like bone fractures can be very complicated and current photographic evidence-gathering is limited. However, using the visualization techniques can offer a unique viewing opportunity and accurately show what an injury looks like.

Witness for the prosecution

Photographic evidence presented in criminal prosecutions can be difficult to explain to those unfamiliar with pathology and can often make for gruesome viewing. Showing the evidence as a 3D representation of the victim makes explanations more relevant and easier to understand. Researchers claim to have proven that the virtual autopsies provide more information than their real-world counterparts.

As well as potentially proving extremely useful where cultures do not allow physical autopsies, the research could also prove beneficial to the living.

Better than reality

All of this visualization technology has been brought together in a demonstration table which gives users the chance to interact with volumetric 3D data sets from two actual bodies, a traffic accident victim and a living patient who was being treated for cerebral hemorrhaging. Just like examiners using the virtual autopsy software, Virtual Autopsy Table users can remove virtual layers to look inside the body, cut through the body with a virtual knife and zoom in and out using a multitouch surface.

According to Project Manager Thomas Rydell: "We are currently using an LCD-based diffuse illumination multitouch table, it can handle multiple tracking points and fiducials. The volume renderer developed at Linköping University allows us to do the rendering at interactive frame rates with very low latency on a regular gaming card, in this case a NVIDIA GTX 295, the fastest gaming card on the market. The rendering is done in full HD resolution."

Future plans

The project team currently has only one working mobile demonstration table but is looking to install tables in a number of selected public institutions from next year which will no doubt be of great interest to Quincy or Silent Witness fans as well as students of anatomy and, of course, technology lovers. The working demonstration model currently travels the globe to be shown at various technology and healthcare conferences and events.

Further reading and updates are available at the project website.

Watch the video below for a demonstration - an autopsy without the stomach-churning gore and nauseating smells.