A virtual autopsy (virtopsy), which uses images from computerized tomography scans (CT scans) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) allows examiners to access a particular body area from several different planes without destroying forensic evidence (Moyer). High-resolution MRI, combined with three-dimensional CT scans can be used to determine the cause of death without having to perform an autopsy, which would be an advantage in cultures and religions in which this procedure is either forbidden, or not as readily acceptable as in Western society. Researchers in Switzerland already have stored data from 100 cases of such "virtual autopsies" for use at a further date to validate the procedure, which they do not believe will become widely accepted for another 10 to 15 years. They presented their findings at the 89th annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in 2003.
The researchers believe the technique is currently under- used because people are as yet unaware of its potential (Moyer). They combine three-dimensional CT scans with high-resolution MRI using a 7.0 Tesla magnet rather than the 1.5 to 3.0 Tesla magnets used with living patients, and the system automatically transfers the data to a computerized database. The system can also store two-dimensional CT images when needed. One advantage of the virtual autopsy, say the researchers, is that it can trace the wound channel of a gunshot wound to the head. A medical examiner conducting an autopsy has to trace the channel with a string threaded through the channel, but an MRI can obtain an image of the channel. The system can also calculate the postmortem interval for badly decomposed bodies. The researchers plan to expand the system to include MRI microscopy, percutaneous biopsy, and postmortem angio