Digital autopsy: Replacing scalpels with scanners
By using raw data from Multi Slice Computerized Tomography (MSCT) and processing it through sophisticated software on high performance computer systems, Malaysian entrepreneur Mathavan (Matt) Chandran hopes to largely negate the need to slice open bodies at autopsy. His digital autopsy software exploits the power of existing 2D and 3D imaging and visualization equipment to observe and investigate the human body using high definition imagery.
Chandran, CEO of iGene, a subsidiary of the InfoValley Group, believes that reducing family trauma and “placating religious sensibilities” are key driving factors in move toward minimally invasive autopsies. Other benefits include secure retrieval of data, both binary and 3D imaging, from central servers as well as the ability for law courts, forensic centers and hospitals to easily access that data. There is also the capacity to gear the digital autopsy platform to educating medical professionals and students in simulated diagnostics.
Whilst autopsy rates have drastically fallen since the 1950’s when 60 percent of deaths were investigated on the slab, there are still autopsies carried out in 10-20 percent of deaths. In America alone, there are over 100,000 malpractice suits filed every year that require investigation. Autopsies are carried out, usually by pathologists, for either legal or medical reasons. A forensic autopsy is undertaken if the cause of death indicates a possible crime has been committed. Clinical or academic autopsies are authorized to ascertain the medical cause of death and used in cases when the cause of death is unknown or for research purposes.
Pramod Bagali, chief operations officer of InfoValley, says the system is "a complementary method, not a complete replacement" to traditional autopsies, but could handle 70 percent of routine cases. The others could be done digitally to start with and then a decision could be made about whether to open up the body. "It's not replacing one flawed system with another," he says.
Additional non-invasive diagnostic tools such as angiography and toxicology are also integrated into the digital autopsy facility which uses existing medical scanners from the likes of Siemens, General Electric, Toshiba and Philips. Chandran plans to open 18 facilities in England starting in October 2013, positioning them close to UK mortuaries. He plans to charge $780 (£500) for the service which would be optional over a state paid traditional autopsy.
A typical up-to-date MSCT scanner either Computerized Tomography (CT/CAT) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) costs in the region of $80,000 to $300,000 and can go up in price to $1.2 million depending on features. iGene has indicated that it will invest up to $77 million in the project and has received funding from Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM) to the tune of $22.7 million.
“Our UK operation will be profitable within three years,” Chandran says. “But that is just the start. By then, we hope to have built at least 10 more facilities in Malaysia, with interest also coming from the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere in Asia.”
There are skeptics to the digital autopsy but Chandran has big dreams including the possibility of scanning every living soul that goes in for a medical checkup. Waiting six weeks to get a MRI scan from the National Health Service (NHS) in UK and another month for the results is not unheard of, giving rise to potential spinoffs beyond the scope of the digital autopsy.
The video below shows the capabilities of InfoValley's digital autopsy software system