Tuning in to antibodies

Even identical twins have unique autoantibody profiles; the same cannot be said for DNA. How might this affect the future of forensics?

     Furthermore, developers herald the testing process as accommodating. Ken Haas, principal director of marketing for Identity Sciences LLC in Alpharetta, Georgia, confirms that even if agencies had none of the equipment necessary to perform tests (though most of them do), it would "cost less than $1,000 to put an AbP ID testing lab together," and would take up approximately 9 square feet of space. (Idaho National Laboratory has granted Identity Sciences exclusive licensing of the technology.)

     Haas also believes this could help agencies prosecute crimes they perhaps could not have afforded to in the past, such as gang-related offenses and auto-theft cases.

     Given the evidence, the test can potentially allow law enforcement to prosecute more crimes quicker, and for less money. As an added bonus, it may also allow agencies to use DNA better. "The market is hungry for a DNA screening tool," asserts Haas. He also believes it can potentially "help reduce the backlog with DNA, which is a huge benefit. You've got almost a million crimes in backlog DNA testing … anything you can do to reduce that number is going to help."

     But before it can shoulder the load of forensic labor, AbP ID must first prove itself in the field — and then successfully go public.

'Will it pass muster?'

     DNA technical leader and forensic expert with Northeastern Illinois Regional Crime Lab, Ken Pfoser, says that any type of testing they deal with, new or old, has to go through certain levels of scrutiny and has to be generally accepted in the forensic community. Finally, they look at how it will be accepted in court. Scientists will run procedures through validation tests to see not only if it works, but also to see if it applies to the type of work they do. In this case, cost is usually a secondary concern. Results are No. 1.

     "Many times, certain technologies work great in the scientific field, but the forensic field might have issues like feasibility or consumes too much sample … or just doesn't give you the results that you'd hoped for," says Pfoser. "If you have the same sample and you run that test on the sample 20, 30, 100 times, [it needs to show] that you're going to get the same result every time. It also involves sensitivity; we want to try and limit how much sample that we consume that's collected from the crime scene."

     One significant advantage of AbP ID is that it requires only a small amount of evidence to get an accurate read — and Thompson adds that Idaho National Laboratory is constantly working to improve sensitivity even more. "Right now we can analyze what we call a micro liter of blood. If you can imagine pricking yourself in the finger and squeezing out a drop of blood, a micro liter would be one-fiftieth of that drop."

     She says that they would obviously like to go lower than that, as there are times when only a small amount of blood is present at a scene. (At this time, lab trials for blood are finished, and semen and saliva are almost complete. Testing for perspiration is in the works.)

     Dr. Lawrence Kobilinsky, DNA expert and chairman of the Department of Forensic Science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, agrees that the real issue behind forensic validation has to do with taking a sample and exposing it to all sorts of conditions, and then checking to see whether the test comes back with reliable results. AbP ID trials were set up to represent various crime scenes. In each scenario, blood samples were taken from a number of fabrics and were exposed to a number of conditions. Testers even used varieties of nonhuman blood to see if AbP ID kits could make the distinction (it could).

     "It doesn't matter whether it's serum, whole blood or a stain," says Haas. "With blood evidence, you get results in 2 hours. The test works with blood stains on denim (a material that's notable for inhibiting the reaction that amplifies DNA required for the DNA analysis), as well as blood that has been sprayed with Luminol."

     Researchers also contaminated some samples with the likes of Clorox. On each fabric they've tested, and despite multiple contamination attempts, Haas claims they have yet to find a fabric on which AbP ID testing will not render an accurate result.

     Kobilinsky feels that AbP ID "sounds potentially very exciting," but states "the question has to do with, is it going to pass muster? Are people going to publish it, and is the community going to jump on top of it? I think there's a lot of potential here, and they will."

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