Rapid Advances in Rapid DNA
Written by Chris Asplen   

A simple posting on the FBI’s CODIS website was actually a monumental step in the progress toward the application of Rapid DNA technology becoming a reality.


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In March 2014, The FBI updated its “CODIS and NDIS Fact Sheet” FAQ section to answer the question, “Can a Rapid DNA instrument be used by an accredited forensic laboratory to develop DNA profiles from known reference samples?” The subsequent answer, while including numerous assumptions and requirements, acknowledged for the first time a pathway for Rapid DNA technology to be used to develop DNA profiles from known reference samples. Further—assuming compliance with the FBI director’s Quality Assurance Standards, testing being performed in an accredited laboratory setting, and a renaming of the process to “modified Rapid DNA analysis”—Rapid DNA-based profiles can be uploaded into CODIS by a participating NDIS (National DNA Index) laboratory.

With that answer (even with its detailed qualifiers), and with the FBI’s approval of Life Technologies’ GlobalFiler Express Kit, Rapid DNA technology became a technology qualified by the FBI for the first time and became useful in the CODIS database. In the fast-developing history of DNA technology, this is a major step forward. As pointed out by Gray Amick, Ph.D., DNA technical leader at Richland County (S.C.) Sheriff’s Department, “Having the ability to upload a profile into the national database from a Rapid DNA system provides laboratories with an excellent option for turning results around quickly.”

And that’s not all. The FBI website, as of April 16, 2014, no longer refers to “rapid” instrumentation as “prototypes.”

Aside from changes in FBI policy, Rapid DNA also saw its first application to crime scene evidence. On September 4, 2013, a break-in occurred at a home belonging to an individual deployed in Afghanistan with the U.S. Air Force. Burglars stole approximately $30,000 worth of property, including firearms, electronic equipment, computers, televisions, military equipment (including a bulletproof vest), clothing, several guitars... and even the cable box. The investigation yielded a suspect who was subsequently arrested for the crime, based on witness statements and other evidence. A blood sample taken from the scene provided a DNA profile that matched the suspect who had been arrested and charged with the crime.

While utilizing DNA evidence from property crimes is not new in Palm Bay, Fla., the police there have begun implementing Rapid DNA technology. Working closely with the State Attorney’s Office for the 18th Judicial Circuit, the Palm Bay Police Department is set to use the DNA profiles obtained using the RapidHIT System from IntegenX in a criminal prosecution. It is the first-ever application of Rapid DNA technology in a criminal investigation.

Since it received the RapidHIT System in November 2012, the Palm Bay Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division (CID) has been working with the manufacturer, using actual crime scene evidence samples to test and validate the equipment’s accuracy and reliability. In January 2014, the CID began processing samples from active cases.

“What we’ve done is taken actual crime scene evidence, including this burglary case and many others, and processed the samples using the RapidHIT System,” said Captain Diana Blackledge, who leads the CID and its Rapid DNA program. “We compared all of the results with those from an accredited lab and they all matched. This validates the device as giving reliable and accurate profiles.”

The Palm Bay Police Department is now using the Rapid DNA technology on a weekly basis, in an effort to generate investigative leads, eliminate potential suspects, and provide evidence to convict offenders in court.

“We have met with the Palm Bay Police Department and have been following their progress with Rapid DNA processing for more than a year. We are prepared to present this case in court using the evidence they have developed from their program,” said Phil Archer, State Attorney for the 18th Judicial Circuit of Florida. “This case is particularly important as it involves a person victimized while serving our country.”

At the beginning of 2014, the Palm Bay Police Department also added a local DNA database to its Rapid DNA program. Palm Bay is now able to cooperate with other local agencies to collect and share DNA profiles from local suspects and local crimes. “The ability to solve selected crimes in less than a day is essential to protecting the public,” said Palm Bay Chief Doug Muldoon. “The use of this new technology is our paramount responsibility to the community.”

To be clear, Palm Bay’s use of Rapid DNA is not covered by the new changes in FBI policy and language regarding known samples in an accredited laboratory setting. Palm Bay’s profiles are not uploadable to CODIS, only to its own database. It does however represent the beginning of the crime scene application of Rapid DNA, which in time will also need to be addressed by the FBI. They are two separate issues but represent milestones in the advancement of Rapid DNA applications nonetheless.

The advancements, however, also serve as reminders that bigger changes are coming and that the commitment for the law enforcement and forensic science communities must be to develop Rapid DNA through a process that serves to maintain DNA technology’s place as the “Gold Standard” for forensic science.

The Global Alliance for Rapid DNA Testing serves to advocate for law enforcement’s access to and use of Rapid DNA technology. As with any organization, there is strength in numbers. If you would like to keep up with the latest breakthroughs in Rapid DNA technology as well as provide your input on how to best maximize Rapid’s potential, consider joining the Global Alliance for Rapid DNA Testing.

About the Author

This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it is the President of Asplen and Associates, LLC and the Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Rapid DNA Testing. Asplen can be reached via email or by phone at 215-264-0958.

 
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