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

y shown that some infants have immature development of nerve pathways in their brains. More research is needed to be able to identify SIDS at autopsy and to prevent more of these deaths.

Deaths associated with drug abuse People who have a history of chronic abuse of cocaine and opiate drugs have an increased risk of dying, even when they have no drugs in their system, noted Dr. Davis, who will lead this discussion. Research shows that chronic cocaine use increases the risk of blood clots, hardening of the arteries, and thickening of the heart muscle, among other effects. More research could help identify the physiological changes that could lead to a sudden death so that these deaths could be identified when they happen and possibly be prevented.


Jeffrey M. Jentzen, M.D., of the Milwaukee County Medical Examiners office and a professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, also in Milwaukee, will look at genetic variations accounting for differences in metabolic rate among individuals. Because people metabolize pills at different rates, for example, medical examiners are unable to precisely determine at autopsy how many pills the victim took.

When prescribing drugs, it is important for the doctor to know if the patient is a slow metabolizer, because these patients may inadvertently overdose on drugs such as methadone, which remains in the body for a relatively long time. Recent research suggests that up to 60 percent of methadone deaths may be related to genetic variations that result in varied metabolic rates. Pharmacogenomic testing at autopsy could become a major tool in explaining some of these sudden deaths.


Contact: Chris Guilfoy
American Physiological Society

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