Using Autopsies to Analyze Genetic Abnormalities

Joseph Maleszewski, M.D.

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journalfewer than five percent of people who die in hospitals are autopsied today. This is down from 50 percent in the 1960s, according to government surveys. As autopsies are beneficial to discovering new advances in diseases, researchers say it as impacted discoveries in certain diseases including cancer, dementia, and heart disease. Further, studies show that when autopsies are performed, 10 to 30 percent reveal previously undiagnosed medical issues.

“Molecular autopsies” combine traditional postmortem exams with DNA tests. According to pathologists, this type of autopsy can provide useful information.

Joseph Maleszewski, M.D., a cardiovascular pathologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., says, "Observing how genetic abnormalities played out in a patient’s body and in symptoms exhibited in life can provide families and researchers with a complete picture of hereditary disease."

Mayo Clinic autopsies approximately 25 percent of patients who die there, however a patient's autopsy samples are kept indefinitely in Mayo's tissue archive.

“If the family ever comes back to us and says, ‘I have this disease. Can we look for evidence in my mother or father or grandfather?’ we can pull that archive and see,” Dr. Maleszewski says. 

According to the article, even when the cause of death seems apparent, autopsies can reveal valuable information.

Read the full article here to learn more about autopsies and their effect on medical discoveries.

Kelley Luedke (@kschrib)

Kelley Luedke

Kelley Luedke is a Marketing Channel Manager at Mayo Clinic Laboratories. She is the principle editor and writer of Insights and leads social media and direct marketing strategy. Kelley has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2013. Outside of work, you can find Kelley running, traveling, playing with her kitty, and exploring new foods.