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Monday, October 12, 1998 Published at 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK


Autopsies for the squeamish

The idea came from a student

BBC East Midlands Health Correspondent Matt Youdale reports
Fancy doing an autopsy? Whatever your medical expertise, you can now have a go - online.

Pathologists at Leicester University have put the details of seven post mortems on an interactive Internet site.

Surfers are asked to read medical notes, study specimens taken from the bodies and come to a conclusion about the cause of death.

What would Quincy make of it all?
It was the idea of a former student at the University. Dr Kevin West, a senior pathology lecturer, believes it will become an invaluable tool for his students.

"Students don't get as much opportunity as they used to to see real autopsies and obviously some of them find them a bit distasteful," he said.

"This offers the opportunity to present disease processes and how they affect patients in a realistic way but without the need for the students and the staff to meet together in the autopsy room."

Body organs

Special care has been taken to make the Website as tasteful as possible. There are no whole-body images - only photographs of individual organs

[ image: You are asked to examine seven cases]
You are asked to examine seven cases
The designers were keen to ensure none of the patients could be identified.

It has already proved a hit with the Leicester undergraduates, said James Burton, a third year medical student.

"It's really good actually. It's interactive. It supplements the course really well. And once you start going through it and looking at the cases, it's really user-friendly and then you get to the end and you get a choice of things that might be wrong.

"So you get to have a guess as well and find out where your mistakes are, and what you need to work on."

TV drama

The image of pathologists has been boosted in the UK thanks to two primetime TV shows. Silent Witness and MacCallum - both are centred on the work of Home Office pathologists - have been a hit with viewers. The classic US series Quincy is also enjoying daytime re-runs.

[ image: Only individual specimens are pictured]
Only individual specimens are pictured
Dr West said he hopes the Website will maintain the momentum, but he also wants people to have a wider understanding of pathologists' work.

"We hope that it might encourage some students to take an interest in pathology.

"The popular image of a pathologist dealing only with the dead is not really a correct one and in fact people like me spend more time looking at biopsies from living people to make a diagnosis of cancer or inflammation, and so on."

So far, the cases featured on the Leicester site are based solely on deaths from natural causes. But the university is already looking at the possibility of including criminal cases as well.

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