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Sheffield opens UK’s first Digital Autopsy Facility

The UK is to become the first nation in the world to have a network of state-of-the-art, non-invasive Digital Autopsy Facilities, offering a significant humanitarian step forward in establishing the cause of unnatural death using sophisticated visualisation software – and a scanner rather than a scalpel.

The first £3 million Digital Autopsy Facility will be housed at Sheffield’s Medico-Legal Centre and will be opened by the Chief Coroner for England and Wales, His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC today, November 27th 2013.

The revolutionary new technology, created by advanced medical visualization company iGene, part of the Malaysian INFOVALLEY group, uses unique 3D visualisation software and is set to revolutionise the way autopsies are carried out, and the process of examination-investigation, in the future. The new centre in Sheffield is the first facility in the world outside its birthplace in Malaysia, and paves the way for a nationwide network of facilities, signalling a £50 million investment.

Digital Autopsy involves a scan of the body using a GE CT scanner, before iGene’s revolutionary, proprietary software ‘INFOPSY®’ creates a 3D image of the body, enabling the pathologist to conduct a full, non-invasive digital post mortem using a large, touchscreen tablet computer. Where necessary, the scene of death or crime could also be reconstructed digitally using the 3D capabilities of the system. The results are available almost immediately.

Benefits of the system include:

  • Easing the emotional burden on families at a time of intense stress with a dignified and non-invasive investigation.
  • Speed of examination, investigation and subsequent autopsy results, minimising delays in releasing the body for burial or cremation
  • Accuracy of results – Some findings that are difficult to spot during a conventional process can be more easily identified and examined in line with the needs of forensic pathologists.

iGene has been developing the software for 12 years and following the opening of the Digital Autopsy Facility in Sheffield, a centre in Bradford is expected to open in 2014.

The company aims to have 18 centres across England and Wales open by the end of 2018, with the eventual creation of up to 250 highly-skilled jobs.

The construction and equipping of the new Sheffield centre is being funded by iGene, which will also train and support pathologist around the region and provide training to other facilities across the UK, as well as recruiting up to 14 other highly-skilled support staff to work along-side them.

Approximately 550,000 deaths are recorded in England and Wales each year alone, of which more than 200,000 are classified as medico legal. iGene believes that Digital Autopsies will become the first line intervention in post-mortem investigation and more than 70% of the cases could be concluded with Digital Autopsy alone.  In the future a more targeted, invasive post mortem may only be required where Digital Autopsy cannot provide all information required.

Matt Chandran, founder and CEO of iGene, said: “This is the first Digital Autopsy network anywhere in the world, which is a testament to the innovative thought-leadership of the UK Government and forward-thinking cities like Sheffield and others across the country, with whom we are working.

“Digital Autopsy is more than just a technological innovation; it represents a tremendous compassionate step forward in establishing the cause of an unnatural death. That the UK is the first country to adopt such an advanced system for post-mortem speaks highly of a society which accords dignity to the living as well as the dead. It also clearly places UK as a leader in innovation of the medical sciences and high technology.”

He added: “Unlike classical autopsy, the process involves no mutilation of the body, allowing the deceased a dignity in death, and removes a process that is increasingly viewed as outdated and invasive, and a cause of tremendous grief for bereaved families.

“Digital Autopsy is an efficient process that takes only minutes to complete, which also facilitates early release of bodies for burial or cremation, often another important factor in easing the concerns of bereaved families.”

Sheffield City Council Leader, Councillor Julie Dore, who will be part of the official opening delegation today said: “Sheffield has always prided itself in being at the forefront of modern technology and for embracing pioneering work in the medical field. Yet again we can celebrate another achievement for Sheffield.

“There are countless families who will be able to benefit from our city having this new facility.

“I am also pleased that we have been able to secure the new £3m Sheffield centre at no cost to the Council and I welcome iGene to our city in this ground breaking deal. The facility will train and support the pathology team in Sheffield as well as recruiting up to 14 other highly-skilled support staff to work along-side them.”

Professor Peter Vanezis, Consultant Forensic Pathologist to the Home Office and Chief Medical Officer for iGene in the UK, stressed that the introduction of this new technology would be progressive. He said: “The partnership with Coroners is of paramount importance. As Chief Medical Officer, I will continue to work closely with local authority Coroners, with whom I have had long relationships over the years, to understand their needs and see how Digital Autopsy can be used to complement the traditional, invasive post mortem.

“I am also setting up a steering committee of experts to assist me in this work, including pathologists, radiologists, radiographers and physicists; people from both medical and scientific disciplines.  This steering committee will ensure quality assurance and strengthen the links between the new technology and existing ones.”

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