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Better Than DNA Profiling: New Test Could Aid in Investigations


Have you ever watched any of the “CSI” television shows? It seems to be a very popular series! The premise of these shows involves just what they’re named for: Crime Scene Investigation. And a big part of those investigations often involves DNA testing, or profiling. But now it looks like DNA might not be the only option. Researchers recently announced that they have developed a test (involving antibodies) to identify humans that works more quickly and could be much less costly than DNA testing. Let’s take a closer look at this new test . . .

Have you ever watched any of the “CSI” television shows? I think there’s three now . . . the regular, original one (Las Vegas), Miami and New York. I guess it must be a pretty popular series! I know the Las Vegas version is my younger sister’s favorite. She can watch many episodes in a row – I’ve even seen her do it!

The premise of these shows involves just what they’re named for: Crime Scene Investigation. And a big part of those investigations often involves DNA testing, or profiling. DNA has been used more and more as of late as important forensic evidence in criminal cases, and even in paternity cases. And, even if you’ve never been a part of a criminal investigation, or a paternity dispute, you still probably know a little bit about DNA testing, including the fact that it’s quite costly and takes some time to complete (maybe you learned this from  your favorite crime-related television show!).

Not to say that the testing hasn’t improved over the years – it has. But many cities, towns and states, as well as individuals, have not been able to afford the all-important DNA testing.

That, however, may be about to change. Researchers recently announced that they have developed a test to identify humans that works more quickly and could be much less costly than DNA testing. 

Although not expected to replace DNA analysis altogether, detectives, pathologists and the military look forward to having this helpful new weapon in their tool kits. Now, don’t get the impression this was an overnight discovery; in fact researchers have been working to perfect the test for the past decade. And, DNA analysis is expected to remain the “gold standard” in human identification.

The new testing method would focus on analyzing antibodies – proteins found in all humans. Every individual has their own unique antibody bar code that can be captured through saliva, blood or other bodily fluids. Until now, antibodies’ only function (an important one) was to ward off viruses or to perform a type of physiological house-cleaning.

Just as DNA is a unique physical code inherent in each of us – in a number of ways, so are our antibodies. Many scientists claim the profile of an antibody will yield results much more quickly, at less cost and can be performed with a minimal amount of training. For the time being, the National Lab has licensed the technology exclusively to a scientific lab located in Alpharetta, Georgia.  This lab plans to start sending out test kits and to provide training to the military, law enforcement, medical labs and forensic labs around the world by Autumn of 2009.

The main value of profiling antibodies is as a screening tool.  This new tool is expected to help sort out the often complicated parts of a crime scene.  For instance, antibody profiling can quickly classify blood spatter or bloody trails involving multiple victims. 

Saving time, money and easing the backlog of DNA testing will be the anticipated result of widely-used antibody profiling. The new test will likely also reduce the number of DNA tests required in a criminal investigation – antibody profiling on blood serum or dried blood can be performed in a couple of hours. This is a small fraction of the time it takes to compile DNA analysis.

There is one major drawback in the new testing method, however. We currently have no national database of antibodies as we do for DNA. This may be the major reason antibody testing won’t likely be used at the beginning of a criminal investigation to link suspects to crimes or prove probable cause.

Forensic experts do foresee great potential in antibody profiling.  Experts do caution, however, that it often requires a lot of time for new forensic tests to achieve acceptance in the place it matters most – the courtroom. Once the tests have passed the experimental stage and begin showing up in police reports, legal briefs, etc. they will have more credibility.

Most feel it’s only a matter of time before antibody profiling is widely used and valued right along side DNA profiling. Perhaps you will soon see such a phenomenon in your city or town (or, your favorite fictional city or town on television . . . say, Las Vegas?).



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