An autopsy is often performed when the cause of someone’s death is unclear – but dissecting the body can be distressing to relatives and is also costly. An alternative is a ‘virtual autopsy’ – marker fluid is injected into an artery and pumped around the body, so that signs of damaged or diseased tissue show up on a scan. The accuracy of this technique is steadily improving. In a recent experiment using a new type of high-contrast marker fluid and computer-enhanced X-ray scanning, the cause of death was correctly diagnosed in 19 out of 20 heart patients. Using this method, even tiny blood vessels buried deep inside the body become visible – in this image of the lower abdomen, they appear as a feathery corona of wispy lines around the large blood vessels.
Written by Mick Warwicker
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