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Game Controller Helps With Virtual Autopsies

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Kinect, the hands-free game-control system for the Microsoft Xbox 360 video game console, has already entered the operating room. Now it has edged into the autopsy room as well.

For several years, the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Bern in Switzerland has been using CT and MRI machines to perform virtual autopsies, or “virtopsies.”

At the moment, the scans represent a supplement to rather than a replacement for a conventional autopsy. They provide a comprehensive picture of the entire body that can be archived and retrieved for later reference.

In the United States, according to a DOTmed News report, the virtual autopsy is routinely used only on soldiers killed in combat. Remains of soldiers who died overseas come back home through Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Most now undergo CT scans as a supplement to conventional autopsies.

Pat Stone, an Army spokesman, told DOTmed that the additional information a scan can provide about how soldiers died might help protect their compatriots in the future. For example, fallen soldiers can be scanned while still wearing their body armor. A scan might reveal a fixable weakness in the armor.

The concept intrigues U.S. medical examiners, according to Stephen Cina, MD, deputy chief medical examiner of Broward County, Florida (the Fort Lauderdale area). Dr. Cina is also a professor of pathology at the University of Miami and president of the Florida Association of Medical Examiners. He told DOTmed:

A CT scan can be a good adjunct to an autopsy. But an autopsy is still the gold standard.

The multimillion-dollar cost of advanced imaging machines has kept their use rare among U.S. medical examiners, Dr. Cina said.

That’s not a problem with Kinect, which can be found for less than $140. The heart of the device is a depth-sensing camera that uses infrared light. The Swiss Virtopsy group has rigged it to control a PACS system. Medical examiners can look up imaging data during the middle of an autopsy, virtual or otherwise, without having to take off their gloves and then wash up again before resuming the procedure.

Here’s a video they made to demonstrate their concept.

Surgeons at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto have already begun using Kinect to consult images from MRI or CT scans during surgery, as we reported in March.

The Virtopsy team hasn’t yet tried the Kinect system during an actual virtopsy. It has submitted its findings about the technique to the journal Surgical Innovation and is awaiting a reply.

Said Lars Ebert, PhD, a computer scientist with the group:

Basically, we wanted to publish first before we continue development. Even though my colleagues already were like: ‘When can we use it?’

Related seminar: Computed Body Tomography: The Cutting Edge

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