In the infant population, head injury is the single most common abusive injury causing death or permanent disability. When a baby is the victim of abusive head trauma (AHT) they have likely suffered a violent shaking and/or impact to the head. Common findings in such cases include subdural haemorrhage, retinal haemorrhages, encephalopathy and fractures of the ribs and long bones. The injured biological tissues which cause these findings may demonstrate microscopic trauma which can only be detected using histological techniques or micro-computed tomography (CT) imaging. Examples of these types of micro-trauma may include damage to blood vessels which results in subdural haemorrhage, or rib fractures that may not be detected by standard CT imaging undertaken by hospital radiology departments.
During post-mortem examinations and subsequent imaging and laboratory investigations, the identification of traumatic damage to biological tissues aids the pathologist in the process of determining potential causes of death and mechanisms of injury. However, it is essential that the pathologist has sufficient information to be able to rule out alternative causes for the findings commonly documented in AHT. During court proceedings, there is the potential for expert witnesses to suggest alternative natural and accidental mechanisms as the cause of several pathologies demonstrated in such cases. It is therefore, essential that the typical microscopic morphology of paediatric tissues is fully described from both AHT and non-abusive post-mortem examinations.
This PhD project will investigate the microscopic morphology of the biological tissues often injured in AHT cases (including the blood vessels thought to be the source of subdural haemorrhage). The case series will include infants that have died a natural or accidental death. Biological tissues will be examined using standard histological methods and will also be imaged using 3D micro CT.
The PhD student will be based primarily in the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit, University of Leicester for retention of tissues and histological studies. The 3D micro CT will be undertaken with the Warwick Manufacturing Group, University of Warwick, as part of an ongoing collaboration between our two units.
The student will be trained in both laboratory research techniques and micro CT imaging. They will develop protocols for the optimal processing of biological tissues for both histological and CT imaging. This project is an excellent opportunity for an individual interested in forensic pathology research and the undertaking of technically challenging, intricate practical work.
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