Forensic pathologists tell physiologists what they know about death and what puzzles them

Washington -- When four forensic pathologists tell physiologists about the deaths that puzzle them, they will do so with the hope of sparking laboratory research to help define the cause of these deaths and prevent more of them.

The four pathologists, all medical examiners and professors, will present their insights, as well as uncertainties, about deaths that happen as struggling individuals are arrested, as infants sleep in their cribs, and following years of drug abuse. By sharing these experiences with physiologists, the medical examiners hope to spur research to clarify how these deaths occur, how to identify them during autopsy, and how to prevent them.

The Physiology in Focus program, "Forensic Medicine," will take place at the 120th annual meeting of The American Physiological Society (APS), which coincides with Experimental Biology 2007, a conference expected to attract 12,000 scientists from across the globe. The session will take place at 8 a.m., Tuesday, May 1 in Ballroom B of the Washington Convention Center.

Cause of death can be murky

"The portrayals of medical examiners on television and in movies and books follow the requirements of dramatic construction," noted Gregory G. Davis, M.D., who will lead the session. In these stories, medical examiners, for instance, nail down the precise cause of death and the exact time. Or they pinpoint the number of pills a person took before dying of an overdose. Such precise pronouncements are often not possible for the real life medical examiner.

In real life, the cause of death may not be entirely clear, and this is especially difficult for families when the deceased is young, said Davis, who is an associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and associate Jefferson County coroner and medical examiner. One of the hardest things Davis must do is tell a family he does not know why their child died, even after performing an autopsy.


Contact: Chris Guilfoy
American Physiological Society

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