Advanced Imaging Technologies for Death Investigation

Advanced Imaging Technologies for Death Investigation


In the last several years, the application of Advanced Imaging Technologies for Death Investigation has grown dramatically and the National Institute of Justice began research in this area in 2012. Advanced technologies used for postmortem imaging (PMI) can include computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging. Other PMI techniques include x-rays, fluoroscopy, sonography, and endoscopy. PMI can provide greater sensitivity and specificity for identifying traumatic injuries as compared with conventional autopsy and is used by some medical examiners and coroners (ME/C) offices to augment death investigation. The growth of PMI was further fueled by the establishment of the International Society of Forensic Radiology and Imaging (ISFRI), which was founded in 2011. In 2013, the ISFRI launched the Forensic Imaging Journal (formerly called the Journal of Forensic Radiology and Imaging). Despite these advancements, many agencies have experienced challenges with the implementation of these new technologies due to the specialized training required, jurisdictional funding, or barriers building relationships between ME/C offices and local hospitals that have this technology. The Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCOE) facilitates the implementation of these advanced technologies into the practice of medicolegal death investigation through a wide variety of resources and tools to provide training and technical assistance as well as support technology adoption.


Post-Mortem Computed Tomography Webinar Series

Post-mortem computed tomography (PMCT) is a valuable tool for medicolegal death investigation. PMCT examination may be used to supplement traditional autopsy or anthropological examinations. Further, PMCT combined with external examination may be used as an alternative to full autopsy for many commonly encountered case types, such as motor vehicle accidents, non-suspicious suicides, and some natural deaths. At the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator (OMI), PMCT has been used routinely for more than seven years, with over 15,000 full body PMCT scans performed. In this six-part webinar series, New Mexico OMI faculty will introduce participants to their use of PMCT, including basic technical aspects, workflow, triage, and the PMCT appearance of many injuries and pathologies commonly encountered by the forensic pathologist. 

PMCT Basics: Facility and Technical Aspects 
Live webinar originally occurred on April 13, 2021.
Presenter: Natalie Adolphi, PhD
View archived webinar here!

PMCT of Gunshot Wounds
Live webinar originally occurred on April 27, 2021.
Presenter: Lauren Decker, MD
View archived webinar here!

PMCT of Natural Disease
Live webinar originally occurred on May 11, 2021.
Presenter: Lori Proe, DO
View archived webinar here!

Overview of PMCT for Pathologist Triage
Live webinar originally occurred on April 20, 2021.
Presenter: Clarissa S. Krinsky, MD, CFP
View archived webinar here!

PMCT of Blunt Force Injury
Live webinar originally occurred on May 4, 2021.
Presenter: Heather Jarrell, MD
View archived webinar here!

PMCT Potpourri of Unnatural Deaths
Live webinar originally occurred on May 18, 2021.
Presenter: Lauren Dvorscak, MD
View archived webinar here!

The New Mexico Decedent Image Database Webinar Series

The New Mexico Decedent Image Database (NMDID) is a new resource for research in any field that can draw on computed tomography scans of humans. The database contains de-identified scans of over 15,000 individuals; all were deceased at the time of scanning. Nearly all images are of complete individuals. The scans are supplemented by up to 69 in-depth metadata variables. These include basic demographic and descriptive information, such as sex, age at death, and cause and manner of death. Additional data may include occupation, hobbies, drinking, smoking, drug use, and many other lifestyle variables.

Overview of Accessing the NMDID Database and Searching
This webinar originally occurred on October 7, 2020.
Presenter: Heather J.H. Edgar, PhD, D-ABFA
View archived webinar here!

Accessing and Utilizing Metadata from NMDID
This webinar originally occurred on October 14, 2020.

Presenter: Dr. Shamsi Daneshvari Berry
View archived webinar here!

Opening and Viewing NMDID Image Data
This webinar originally occurred on October 21, 2020.
Presenter: Natalie L. Adolphi, PhD
View archived webinar here!

Taking 3D Measurements with NMDID Images
This webinar originally occurred on October 28, 2020.
Presenter: Rachel A. Menegaz, PhD
View archived webinar here!

3D-ID-Geometric Morphometric Classification of Crania for Forensic Scientists Software Best Practices

This webinar originally occurred on August 16, 2018. 
Presenter: Dr. Ann Ross

The latest version of 3D-ID provides tools to address the global humanitarian crisis of mass migration of individuals escaping wars, starvation, and displacement within and outside our borders by the inclusion of West African (n=93), East African (n=36), Nigerian (n=30), Syrian (n=43), Colombian (n=71) reference samples. The reference population included in the software totals 2,372 individuals from around the world. Another new feature added to the software to facilitate ease of use is that the practitioner can now digitize directly into the software without having to format the coordinate data. In this webinar, attendees will be introduced to the new features of the new software release, how to maximize results, and how to best interpret results for forensic casework application. Click here to learn more!


Case Study Guides for Select NMDID Cases

The New Mexico Decedent Image Database provides access to whole body postmortem computed tomography (PMCT) images of more than 15,000 decedents, and a rich body of associated metadata, in support of research and education. There are four Case Study Guides that feature anthropology cases, and four devoted to the topic of decomposition/post-mortem change at different stages. The remainder of the guides are medical examiner cases representing a variety of case types (homicide, suicide, accident, and natural) with a wide variety of findings, many commonly encountered in the medical examiner setting, and some unusual findings. For forensic pathologists, radiologists, anthropologists, and other forensic practitioners who are interested in learning more about the use of PMCT in death investigation and anthropological analysis, we hope these guides will provide a starting point for learning about the way PMCT may be used for various case types and the PMCT appearance of some common and some unusual findings. Click here to learn more!

Developing a Postmortem CT Service: Practical Considerations for Death Investigation Agencies

This guide will help medicolegal death investigation agencies that are considering adopting postmortem computed tomography (PMCT) make informed decisions. First, the basic questions are outlined that must be considered before approaching architects or gathering information about specific CT scanners. Next, the evolution of PMCT use at the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator is described as just one example of how a PMCT service can function in a high-volume agency. The remainder of the guide covers, topic-by-topic, important considerations for planning, establishing, and maintaining a PMCT service in a medical examiner’s or coroner’s office. Click here to learn more!

Success Story: Uncovering Key Details of Skeletal Remains through 3D-ID Software

When forensic anthropologists investigate unidentified remains, they look for important clues that can help identify the subject. For example, the size and shape of the skull can be used to predict a subject’s ancestry and sex, details that can play a key role in narrowing down the identity of the decedent. Traditionally, the methods used to characterize the shape and size of a skull involve multivariate statistical analysis techniques that measure disparate linear distances between anatomical landmarks on the skull. However, this approach provides limited information on the shape of the skull, as these linear distances are measured in two dimensions and not in relation to other measurements. Geometric morphometric (GM) analysis records the same anatomical landmarks, but in relation to each other in three dimensions (X, Y, Z coordinates), providing a more biologically informative perspective of the skull that can better characterize the form (i.e., both shape and size) of the skull. Click here to learn more!

Conference Proceedings: International Forensic Radiology Research Summit May 10–11, 2016

On May 10–11, 2016, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI; Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice of the Netherlands), the International Society for Forensic Radiology and Imaging (ISFRI), the International Association of Forensic Radiographers (IAFR), and NIJ’s Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCOE) at RTI International organized and convened the International Forensic Radiology Research Summit (IFRRS) at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam. The summit assembled 40 international subject matter experts in forensic radiology, to include researchers, practitioners, government employees, and professional staff from 14 countries. The goal of this 2-day summit was to identify gaps, challenges, and research needs to produce a road map to success regarding the state of forensic radiology, including formulating a plan to address the obstacles to implementation of advanced imaging technologies in medicolegal investigations. These proceedings summarize the meeting’s important exchange of technical and operational information, ideas, and solutions for the community and other stakeholders of forensic radiology. Click here to learn more!

Podcast Episodes

Just Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Pathology Portfolio

Original Release Date: June 18, 2021

In episode three of our 2021 NIJ R&D and Beyond mini season, Just Science sat down with Danielle McLeod-Henning, a physical scientist and program manager in the Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences at NIJ, to discuss Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Pathology.  

Danielle McLeod-Henning has been the physical scientist in charge of the forensic anthropology, pathology, and medicolegal death investigation portfolio since 2009. In that time, she has dedicated her efforts to bridging the gap between research and application. Listen along as she talks about technology translation, creating research connections outside of forensic science, and the NIJ research portfolio in this episode of Just Science.

This episode of Just Science is funded by the National Institute of Justice’s Forensic Technology Center of Excellence [Award 2016-MU-BX-K110].

Just Imaging Flow Cytometry

Original Release Date: July 21, 2019

In episode ten of the 2019 R&D season, Just Science interviews Dr. Christopher Ehrhardt, professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, about a method for determining tissue type, age of evidence, and contributors from biological mixtures using cellular autofluorescence signatures.

It goes without saying that cells collected from different parts of the body look different. Buccal, vaginal, epidermal, and blood cells all have unique intrinsic properties. However, when they are combined, it can be difficult to discern what components are actually in the mixture. Using Imaging Flow Cytometry, Dr. Ehrhardt has found a way to differentiate between cell types, estimate cellular age, and identify contributors in the sample. Listen in as he discusses how autofluorescence data and cellular properties are being used to analyze samples without destroying the evidence in this episode of Just Science.

This episode of Just Science is funded by the National Institute of Justice’s Forensic Technology Center of Excellence [Award 2016-MU-BX-K110].

Just a Whole-Body CT Image Database

Original Release Date: August 27, 2018

In episode four of the 2018 NIJ R&D season, Just Science speaks with Dr. Shamsi Berry, from the University of Mississippi Medical Center, about her research with standardizing a large-scale, whole-body CT image database.  

In 2010 the Office of the Medical Investigator for New Mexico was awarded an NIJ grant where they did high-resolution whole-body CT scans.  Fast forward six years later where another NIJ grant was awarded to create a free-access Decedent CT Database from those whole body CTs.  There will be over 15,000 autopsies that captures key data and whole-body CT images, which will be an invaluable resource to forensic researchers when it releases in late 2018.  

This episode of Just Science is funded by the National Institute of Justice’s Forensic Technology Center of Excellence [Award 2016-MU-BX-K110].


Workshop: Advanced Radiologic Imaging in Medicolegal Death Investigation

In conjunction with the University of New Mexico, the Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCOE) hosted a technology transition workshop focusing on advanced radiologic imaging for medicolegal death investigation on November 11-13, 2016. The workshop was held at the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator Radiology-Pathology Center for Forensic Imaging (CFI) and a computer laboratory at the University of New Mexico Health Science Center, School of Medicine. The goal of the workshop was to enable and enhance the effective transfer of advanced imaging technology into forensic practice in the United States. This goal was accomplished by introducing attendees to the history and current status of radiology and advanced imaging in forensics, basic concepts in the production of CT ad MR images, CT and MR protocols, image viewing software, 3D rendering, and interpretation/reporting of advanced imaging.

Funding for these Forensic Technology Center of Excellence resources was provided by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in these resources are those of the author(s)/presenter(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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