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?

     In fact, Kobilinsky does not foresee any legal issues with the testing until the first time it's brought to court. Then, he says, it must pass through admissibility standards that will likely vary by state and jurisdiction.

     Once the process is deemed admissible in one jurisdiction, it goes to trials and then the appellate level. "And then it will finally be accepted throughout a particular state," says Kobilinsky. "So there is both a scientific and legal process to go through."

Building a database with confidence

     A few questions remain with autoantibody technology. Foremost is the lack of a national antibody database. With existing fingerprint and ballistics databases, users can look at an item of evidence, search the database and see if they get a hit. This helps link serial crimes or crimes that are occurring in different jurisdictions. Right now with antibodies, a database is something for the future. "You can't start off with a technique and expect to have a database overnight," says Kobilinsky. "You also have to have standardization in any lab that adopts it."

     To get the ball rolling, Identity Sciences currently has an antibody database and project called Image ID — digital imaging software that houses the results of the AbP ID tests and compares tests to one another, or to another database of AbP ID tests. The database, of course, will take time to build. After all, DNA databases continue to be populated to this day.

     Thompson sees the database starting on the local level, where a forensic lab will begin to populate it with its case work until other local databases eventually merge to form a national database.

     Others question whether a person's antibody profiles will change as they age.

     Thompson explains that in some sense [antibody profiles] don't stay the same for the first couple years of life. "When a baby's born, its antibody profile is identical to its mother's," Thompson says. "However, by the time the baby's about 2 years old, they've developed their own profile. At that point, it doesn't change anymore; it stays the same for life and it is not affected by environmental exposures or by diseases."

     Plans to roll out test kits and training to law enforcement, the military and forensic and medical labs around the globe are slated to begin as soon as 2009. Once word gets out and more people look into this offering, it is up to individual agencies and labs to help it forward.

'Forensics has become big business'

     Provided it is deemed reliable and is properly validated, Kobilinsky feels antibody testing will catch on. He adds that "Forensics has become big business now, so when one lab adopts it and demonstrates that it's useful in either supplementing DNA or doing something DNA can't do, people are going to look at it, and little by little it's going to spread."

     Crime labs will likely be the first agencies to pick up the technology. But researchers anticipate commercial labs and smaller agencies getting involved as well.

     A number of beta sites and forensic labs across the country (all of which have entered a confidentiality agreement with Identity Sciences) are currently testing the product. These agencies represent a cross-section of jurisdictions within the United States, and consist of large cities, small towns and varied geographical locations. "The question most-asked was, 'When can we have it/When can we buy it?'" says Thompson.

     Regardless of who is first to pick up the unique system of blood barcoding, hopes are high.

     To the Department of Defense, AbP ID could mean helping put body parts back together, faster. It can be used as a tool in crisis mitigation. If people are registered in a database, deceased persons can be identified quickly using AbP ID.

     As Haas puts it, "People in law enforcement generally want to solve crime. They really do. And they want a good screening tool for DNA. But the other side of it is that it's a good product; it's good for humanity."

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