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Forensic Sci Int. 2013 Feb 10;225(1-3):53-9. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2012.10.029. Epub 2012 Nov 13.

Virtual anthropology: a comparison between the performance of conventional X-ray and MDCT in investigating the trabecular structure of long bones.

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  • 1University Center of Legal Medicine Lausanne-Geneva, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland.


Recently, modern cross-sectional imaging techniques such as multi-detector computed tomography (MDCT) have pioneered post mortem investigations, especially in forensic medicine. Such approaches can also be used to investigate bones non-invasively for anthropological purposes. Long bones are often examined in forensic cases because they are frequently discovered and transferred to medico-legal departments for investigation. To estimate their age, the trabecular structure must be examined. This study aimed to compare the performance of MDCT with conventional X-rays to investigate the trabecular structure of long bones. Fifty-two dry bones (24 humeri and 28 femora) from anthropological collections were first examined by conventional X-ray, and then by MDCT. Trabecular structure was evaluated by seven observers (two experienced and five inexperienced in anthropology) who analyzed images obtained by radiological methods. Analyses contained the measurement of one quantitative parameter (caput diameter of humerus and femur) and staging the trabecular structure of each bone. Preciseness of each technique was indicated by describing areas of trabecular destruction and particularities of the bones, such as pathological changes. Concerning quantitative parameters, the measurements demonstrate comparable results for the MDCT and conventional X-ray techniques. In contrast, the overall inter-observer reliability of the staging was low with MDCT and conventional X-ray. Reliability increased significantly when only the results of the staging performed by the two experienced observers were compared, particularly regarding the MDCT analysis. Our results also indicate that MDCT appears to be better suited to a detailed examination of the trabecular structure. In our opinion, MDCT is an adequate tool with which to examine the trabecular structure of long bones. However, adequate methods should be developed or existing methods should be adapted to MDCT.

Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

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