contact@sifsindia.com +91 11 47074263
May 18, 2020 - BY Vaishnavi Hitendra Thakre

Concept of Virtual Autopsy

Virtual Autopsy

A Novel Trend in Death Investigation!

The word "autopsy" has been derived from the Greek words "auto" and "opsis", that literally means " an eye-witnessing, a seeing for oneself " or “to see with one’s own eyes”. Autopsy is basically examining the dead body thoroughly in order to determine the cause of death. It’s a critical examination, evaluation, or assessment of someone or something past.

The virtual autopsy (virtopsy) is a novel approach in the death investigation since it internally examines the dead body without opening the body or body parts. For this purpose, several imaging techniques are used. These techniques can be adopted individually or in conjunction.  

Although the advancement of imaging techniques has been noticed in the field of forensic science, the traditional methodology of death investigation has not been completely replaced. Till date most of the cases of death investigation are carried out by the conventional method of dissecting, describing and documenting. Both of these have their own merits and demerits. 

Use of Modern Radiographical Aids

Robot Guided Surface Scanning - In order to report the external body findings; the photogrammetry is used in combination with 3D surface scanning. The robots herein used are known as virtobots. A forensic robot has been named as a virtobot at the University of Bern’s Institute of Forensic Medicine that performs the task of virtual autopsy or the virtopsy.  The virtobot is responsible for acquiring high definition images by scanning contours and texture of human body by means of projection of light bars on the surface. 

  • Virtobot – A Coolest Radiographical Aid?
  • Indeed it is a coolest radiographical aid since it is a multifunctional robotic system adopted for 3D surface scanning and automatic post mortem biopsy. The CT guided biopsies can also be performed by this virtobot. 


Computed Tomography (CT) - Virtopsy CT has its noticeable importance in cases of trauma wherein it can provide an overview of injuries sustained by the victim. This might include detecting craniofacial and cerebral injuries, thoracic as well as osseous injuries thereby indicating the possible cause of death. Thus, virtopsy CT is believed to be ideal for traumatic cases since, many a times it happens when the actual cause of death is masked because of the severe tissue and bone damage. In such cases, the virtopsy plays a crucial role of giving in-depth investigative post-mortem information of the deceased.   


Post-Mortem Angiography - It visualizes the cardiovascular system of the deceased using peristaltic pump and contrast medium.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - For generating the pictures of physiological processes and the anatomical parts of the body, this technique is adopted which utilizes strong magnetic fields as well as gradients and also radio waves for the purpose of image generation.  

How it is different from CT and PET scans?

CT scans involves penetrating waves like x-rays in contrast MRI does not involve X-rays or the use of ionizing radiation, which distinguishes it from CT and PET scans.


Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS) - MRS is also referred as NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) which is considered as a non-invasive, ionizing-radiation-free analytical technique. It is used to study metabolic changes in brain tumors, strokes, seizure disorders, depression, Alzheimer's disease and other brain affecting diseases.


MR Microscopy - The application of MR Microscopy can be noticed in studying the soft-tissue injuries like electric injury to the skin, retinal hemorrhage, etc. Also, it is utilized to study the patterns of injury and the weapon involved. 


Microtomography - The literal meaning of tomography is imaging by sections or sectioning with the use of any kind of penetrating wave. This wave could be x-ray also. If x-ray is used then it would be called x-ray Microtomography. It’s basically a non-destructive technique allowing evaluating the internal structure of an object by means of reconstructing the spatial distribution of the local linear X-ray absorption coefficients of the materials contained within.

Objectives of Virtopsy

  • Determining cause of death in cases of severe tissue and bone damage 
  • Identification of injuries and Forensic 3D reconstruction
  • Bullet track identification 
  • Gender identification in special circumstances 
  • Identification of discrete bodies like retained bullets, blades, etc
  • Educational and research purposes

How Advantageous Virtopsy is?

The major advantage of virtopsy is that the human body can be preserved virtually for an infinite time. This could allow and help the medico-legal personnel to examine the body by conducting virtual autopsies even in its absence when for religious, personal, or other reasons; spouses or families sometimes do not want their murdered loved one's remains to be autopsied. 

Virtopsy is invented and trademarked by Prof. Richard Dirnhofer and is a noninvasive, damaging neither the body nor forensic evidence. The technique is not inexpensive but its cost is expected to reduce in near future since it’s a trending as well as growing technique which would be demanding as well specially in the arena of medico-legal investigation.  

Special Applications in Forensic Odontology

As far as the dental identification is concerned; in order to establish the identity the dental evidence of the deceased recovered from the scene of crime is compared with the ante-mortem records. Thus, the procedures often include comparing the postmortem data with the antemortem data, development of dental postmortem victim details, and dental deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques. The postmortem dental data is thus important and must be taken evidence for dental identification which is obtained principally by visual examination. In cases, wherein the dental cavities are severely damaged; the visual examination becomes difficult. In these cases, virtopsy plays a vital role as being a quick and a reliable way of getting postmortem records.  Thus, the technique has gained a special importance in this field. 

References: 

Stomp, Wouter. “Virtobot Performs Virtual Autopsies |.” Medgadget, 19 Mar. 2010, www.medgadget.com/2010/03/virtobot_performs_virtual_autopsies.html.

Panda, Ananya, et al. “Virtopsy Computed Tomography in Trauma: Normal Postmortem Changes and Pathologic Spectrum of Findings.” Current Problems in Diagnostic Radiology, vol. 44, no. 5, 2015, pp. 391–406., doi:10.1067/j.cpradiol.2015.03.005.

The Future of Forensic Biology, www.jbiomed.com/v03p0013.htm.

Tejaswi, K B, and E Aarte Hari Periya. “Virtopsy (Virtual Autopsy): A New Phase in Forensic Investigation.” Journal of Forensic Dental Sciences, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, July 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3826044/.