Fast forensics

UK researchers are believed to be the first to develop and demonstrate a new scanning approach for mass fatality investigations.


UK researchers are believed to be the first to develop and demonstrate a new scanning approach for mass fatality investigations.

The technique is said to be safer, faster and provides far superior information than its predecessors. And, unlike older methods, it is entirely mobile so it can be used at an investigation scene.

The team, from LeicesterUniversity, hopes that the Multislice Computed Tomography (MSCT) scanner will replace the two existing radiology methods, fluoroscopy and X-ray. The former is time-consuming, and yields limited information, and the latter is hazardous to health.

Fluoroscopes, which work by taking continuous real-time x-rays, can take 90 minutes to complete a full body examination, whereas the MSCT scanner takes just 20 seconds to retrieve and transmit data. And unlike x-ray units, there are no health problems because there is no radiological content in MSCT.

And while the fluoroscope and x-ray systems are used in tandem to retrieve information on tissue and bone data, MSCT provides detailed information relating to the whole body.

The MSCT scanner works in a similar way to a hospital computed tomography (CT) scan by taking splices of information from the body. The 2D and 3D data extracted is sent to a computer within seconds.

It was successfully used at a mortuary on the victims of a multiple road crash, led by Prof Guy Rutty of the university’s Forensic Pathology Unit.

He said: ‘The ability to utilise mobile MSCT technology under these circumstances may result in a complete rethink of the type of radiology to be used in temporary mortuaries or scenes of mass fatalities.’

The scanner has myriad uses in forensic investigation. It can provide 2D plain film (AP and lateral) and 3D multislice examination of both soft tissue and bony reconstruction. It can be used to determine cause of death, to examine wounds and examine tissue.

It also enables pre-autopsy planning. This technique is part of a world programme that aims to end the practice of invasive autopsy. But for now the team is focusing on the mobile attributes of MSCT. ‘It can, theoretically, be taken to the scene of investigation,’ said Rutty, who believes the scanner should be used at the scene of all future mass fatality incidents.