The backlog of rape kits awaiting DNA analysis continues to make headlines. And the stories often focus on the numbers, especially the shockingly large volume of untested kits. But as forensics professionals, we must always stay conscious of the fact that each of those untested samples represents a person—someone who experienced a life-altering trauma.
Many factors feed into the failure to deliver justice, but a primary issue is the lack of innovation in the rape kit itself. That’s why InnoGenomics is developing a quicker, more sensitive analysis in a product called SpermTrap. Our nanotechnology-derived matrix could enable investigators to obtain clean assailant profiles through a rapid procedure that’s compatible with tools and workflows common in today’s forensics labs.
“Our beta product is actually able to extract the sperm and return a higher yield—and do so more efficiently than the archaic systems that are still very much being used out there,” said Sudhir Sinha, Ph.D., CEO and President of InnoGenomics.
Current rape kit technology has remained largely unchanged since the 1980s. One problem is the large amount of staff hours required to manipulate and separate the collected samples, which are mixtures of fluids from the victim and perpetrator.
“In some instances, the volume of untested DNA evidence has outpaced the resources to test, process, and profile samples in crime labs,” according to RAINN, America’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. “This has led to evidence being stored at crime labs, but remaining untested for prolonged periods of time.”
A second issue is the well-established losses of genetic material that occur during mixture separation. The standard method requires multiple washes, centrifugations, and selective digests, which destroy some portion of the genetic material of the victim and assailant alike. In some cases, this method fails to enable generation of a conclusive profile from the male, thereby hampering the criminal justice system’s ability to identify and prosecute offenders.
“Labs still use this method because it’s the gold standard in the forensic world,” said Sinha. “But at the same time, it’s a very tedious, time-consuming process.”
At InnoGenomics, we hope to turn that process on its head by both decreasing material losses and increasing the ability to hone in on the perpetrator’s genetic material. SpermTrap will require less rounds of sample-washing and centrifugation.
Our matrix material effectively traps sperm cells while enabling efficient flow-through of digested epithelial cell DNA. This enables a forensic lab to obtain clean sperm fraction DNA profiles while minimizing sample manipulations, thus providing a rapid, reproducible procedure that is easy to implement in a single-tube format, as well as high-throughput automated workflows.
Our intention is for the streamlined process to help reduce testing backlogs by empowering labs to turn around conclusive results at a faster pace. The solution is still in beta testing, and validation is being funded through the National Institute of Justice. We plan to commercialize by Q3 2018. To stay on top of announcements about our technology, follow InnoGenomics on Facebook or LinkedIn.