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Network of digital autopsy centres opening across UK

The UK is to get a network of 18 state-of-the-art digital autopsy facilities – making it a world leader in the field.

A £3m facility being built at Sheffield’s Medico-Legal Centre will be the first of a nationwide network that will eventually involve an investment of £50m in the UK, over the next two years. It will be operated by iGene, a Malaysian advanced medical informatics company, in conjunction with Sheffield City Council.

Campaigners believe digital autopsies, which use using a scanner rather than a scalpel to ascertain the cause of an unnatural death, offer a significant humanitarian step forward.

Ash Govind, a former funeral director and death care strategist, now global vice president of commercial development for iGene, said it was important funeral directors were aware of this new facility as fees for digital autopsies may one day be collected as part of the disbursements of a funeral. 

“A digital autopsy is less invasive and can establish the cause of unnatural death in a less distressing way for families and in a way that offers greater dignity to the deceased,” he explained. This is therefore an important service for funeral directors to be aware of that can support bereaved families at a time of loss.

“As digital autopsies are quicker to carry out, when they are able to replace some traditional post mortems this could also lead to the earlier release of bodies for cremation or burial, thereby speeding up the funeral process and necessitating changes to the way they are arranged.”

Digital autopsy involves a three-dimensional scan of the body using a CT scanner. The pathologist is able to conduct a full, non-invasive digital post mortem using a large, touchscreen tablet computer, thanks to iGene’s revolutionary visualisation software. The results are available almost immediately.

The construction and equipping of the new Sheffield centre is being funded by iGene London Limited, the UK subsidiary of iGene. The company will train and support the pathology team in Sheffield and is recruiting at least 14 other highly skilled support staff to work alongside them.

Approximately 550,000 deaths are recorded in England and Wales each year, of which more than 200,000 are classified as having medico legal issues. IGene believes that digital autopsies will eventually replace traditional autopsies as first intervention option in more than 70% of cases. 

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. 

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