Specimens of the normal and congenitally abnormal heart have been long preserved, collected, and studied. It is increasingly difficult to add to such pathological collections. These museum pieces are often inaccessible for teaching purposes. Magnetic resonance imaging of old pathological specimens could produce high-resolution unalterable datasets that could be processed to create three-dimensional reconstructions using inexpensive systems that could be used by untrained individuals. To our knowledge, the concept of “Virtual Autopsy” has not been applied to cardiac specimens of museum collections.
To determine optimal sequences and assure specimen safety, five different pulse sequences designed to create three-dimensional datasets were tried on a uterus specimen suspended in a fluid-filled glass container, using a 1.5 Tesla scanner with an eight-channel phased-array coil. Having found the best sequences and established specimen integrity, we scanned six historical heart specimens in their original fluid-filled glass containers. The datasets were processed on a laptop with a DICOM viewer available as freeware.
All specimens were successfully scanned. The best image quality was obtained by using a three-dimensional FSPGR and the BRAVO pulse sequences. High-resolution three-dimensional and multi-planar image processing was possible for all datasets. Detailed examination of the specimens could be easily performed.
Pathological specimens can successfully be scanned in minutes resulting in unalterable and portable high-resolution three-dimensional datasets that can be processed by using inexpensive readily available software. The final cardiac reconstructions can be widely shared for educational and scientific purposes and ensure a lasting access to pathological specimens.