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Autopsy: Studying the Human Beef


Imagine your favorite character dead. What’s next? Burial, burning the corpse…? Hell no, don’t you want to know the cause behind this demise? So, you opt for autopsy.

What is it?

Autopsy, a Greek word, literally means “to see for oneself.” It is a surgical procedure that consists of a thorough examination of a corpse by dissection to determine the cause, mode, and manner of death or to evaluate any disease or injury that may be present for research or educational purposes.



Often people confuse it with biopsy, which is a sample of tissue taken from the body in order to examine it more closely to determine the presence or extent of a disease.

Its Types: There are three basic types of autopsies in terms of the extent of the examination.

  • A complete autopsy is anatomically unrestricted with the inclusion of all body cavities and the brain.

  • A limited autopsy generally excludes the brain.

  • A restricted autopsy is one that is confined to a specific body cavity (thorax only or brain only, as examples).

How is an Autopsy Done?

  • A visual exam of the entire body is done which includes the organs and internal structures.

  • Organs, fluids, and tissues are tested via microscopic, chemical, and microbiological exams.

  • All organs are removed for examination and weighed

  • A section is preserved for processing into microscopic slides.

  • A final report is made after all lab tests are over.

  • Duration of autopsies- 2 to 4 hours. The results of lab tests on samples of body fluids and tissues may take a few weeks’ time to be returned.

Who gets to do it?


State ordered autopsies are done by a country coroner while the clinical autopsies are performed by a forensic pathologist.

BUT WAIT! What if the Body is Burnt…?


Worried that the criminal might escape? Science got you backed, chill. The charred bodies are generally not completely destroyed but the forensic coroner’s task to identify the victim and know the cause of death be it due to intoxication or involvement of a potential criminal seems challenging.



Procedure:

  1. Relevant information during the removal of corpses, such as the position of the body in the fire debris, its temperature and its carbonisation degree, is collected by the forensic team.

  2. Specific toxicological screening tests for blood levels of substances such as carbon monoxide and cyanide, to determine whether or not the victim was alive when the fire was initiated is carried out.

  3. Various imaging techniques to help the forensic pathologist in the victim’s identification process, fluid analysis and DNA sampling are put into work.


Result:


Via the modernisation and improvement of cross-sectional imaging techniques, PMCT (Post-Mortem Computed Tomography) has superseded conventional radiography in providing specific semiologies to differentiate between normal post-mortem changes from heat-related changes.

What's new in Autopsy Researches?


Apart from examining and evaluating the cause behind a death or disease, a forensic pathologist also tries to estimate the time of death. Traditional ways to do it include measuring body temperature or observing insect activity but they are often ineffective.

Recent studies find that the level of protein present in the bone or in other words ‘bone proteomics’ could be used to determine this. This is a sort used when the body is submerged under water via PMSI (Post-Mortem Submerged Interval) where the decomposition stage of several areas of the body is examined. But PMSI estimation becomes challenging underwater due to water salinity, depth, tides, temperature, presence of bacteria and scavengers.

But bones are stronger than soft tissues, and they lie deep within the body, so the proteins within them might be shielded from some of these effects, so the researchers, Noemi Procopio and colleagues wondered if monitoring the levels of certain proteins in bones could reveal the amount of time that a corpse is underwater, and also whether different types of water mattered.

Note: The experiment has been conducted on a mouse.


Aim: To identify bio-markers that could be useful for PMSI estimation in different aquatic environments.


Procedure:

  1. Fresh mouse carcasses are placed in bottles of tap water, saltwater, pond water or chlorinated water.

  2. After a PMSI of 1 or 3 weeks, the tibia, or lower leg bones, from the corpses were collected, the proteins are extracted and analysed by mass spectrometry.




TADS – Time after death; PMSI – post-mortem submerged interval


Result:

  • It is found that the time since submersion had a greater effect on protein levels than the different types of water.

  • A protein called fructose-bisphosphate aldolase A decreases in bone with increasing PMSI.

  • In pond water, a protein called fetuin-A is more likely to undergo a chemical modification, called deamidation, than in the other types of water, which could help reveal if a body was once submerged in pond water and then moved.

- written by Trisha Bhattacharya

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