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Calif. Researchers Tag Cadavers, Body Parts

The project adds the University of California to a growing list of hospitals and schools turning to RFID technology to track human bodies, tissues or specimens.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jun 02, 2009Most universities rely on public funding to support their educational and research programs, but the gifts are not always money-based. Each year, for instance the University of California's Anatomical Services department receives nearly a thousand human cadavers, donated to support the education of health professionals, as well as further scientific research. In order to simplify and improve the accuracy of the process of tracking these bodies, the department is currently testing an RFID system developed by the Wireless Internet for Mobile Enterprise Consortium (WINMEC), a UCLA-based research group.

This project adds the UC Anatomical Services department to a growing list of hospitals and research centers that are turning to RFID to improve the tracking of cadavers and human specimens, such as tissue samples and biopsies. The first such application, developed by VeriTrace, was used for tracking corpses in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (see VeriChip's VeriTrace Platform Sees Sales Boost). In 2008, the Mayo Clinic began employing RFID to track biopsy specimens (see At Mayo Clinic, RFID Slashes Error Rate). And recently, the University of Michigan Health System began using RFID to track body tissues (see University of Michigan Health System Tags Surgical Tissue).


To read the tags, lab workers use a wand-shaped handheld RFID reader.

Brandi Schmitt, director of the UC Anatomical Services department, says the WINMEC solution, known as SpecimenTrak, is currently being evaluated at the Anatomical Services lab serving UCLA. The UC campuses in Davis, Irvine, San Francisco and San Diego also operate Anatomical Services labs. At each of these locations, systems for tracking the specimens require the manual entry of information into a database.

While the RFID hardware has been in use and functioning well for more than a year, Schmitt explains, the software integration required to expand the system to the other labs is still in progress. "We are currently working on merging the WINMEC software with the [Anatomical Services system] existing database," she says. "Right now, we have the database that manages the majority of our data, and then we have the SpecimenTrak database. They are separate, so we are working on the interface needed to merge them." Once this step is complete—which Schmitt hopes will happen by the fall of this year—all other Anatomical Services labs will adopt the RFID system as well.

When a cadaver arrives at the UCLA facility, an alphanumeric identification code is issued in order to identify and track that corpse. This code is entered into the software, where it is associated with the unique ID number encoded to an RFID tag that is then sutured to the body.

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