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Virtual autopsies

One of the best talks at AHM2007 was on medical imaging, by Prof. Anders Ynnerman of Linkoping University in Sweden. Imaging researchers always have an advantage when giving talks because they can show much of their work in pictures; Anders took full advantage. The immediacy of visualisation in communicating information meant that some viewers found his medical pictures a little too gruesome.

The computer science aspect of his talk was about techniques for 3-D reconstruction of body images from the 2-D “slices” taken by medical CAT and MRI scanners. As these scanning devices increase in resolution, so the size of data to be processed increases. In order to process the data, ZZX is using intelligent compression techniques, based on whether a voxel represents bone, blood or tissue.

Aside from the technical content, I was very interested in the uses XXX has found for this work in addition to the usual pre-operative medical briefing. His team are now able to help the police by performing virtual autopsies. They can receive a corpse in a body bag, scan it, analyses the results on a computational cluster and give the resulting images to the pathologies a few hours later.

This technique is particular useful for spotting broken bones, for example, or detecting the path of a bullet through a body. This latter example was used to clear a police officer of misconduct charges after a fatal shooting – the team were able to show that the office had aimed at the target’s legs as per orders but the bullet had ricocheted upwards off a railing, killing the victim. So the death was an accident rather than murder.

At present, this system requires careful tuning by the expert team for each case, but it seem eminently suitable to develop further into production use.

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