UVA chemists developing tool to quickly analyze crime scene DNA

Device to help with DNA sampling on crime scenes
Device to help with DNA sampling on crime scenes(wvir)
Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 1:37 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Two chemists at the University of Virginia say have tool they say could be a game-changer in crime solving.

“When you see those sketches of approximating what someone might look like, that’s a whole other company doing that. That’s not the lab,” Rachelle Turiello said.

Turiello says she noticed that was an issue when she worked on crime scene investigations in Maryland. She wanted to find a simpler solution. She enrolled in a Ph. D. program with UVA’s chemistry department. There she met Renna Nouwairi-- another student in the program.

Their mutual interests in crime solving and chemistry led to a successful business partnership, and friendship. Together they are creating a disc-like prototype that could help problem solve.

The device streamlines a part of the genetic workflow called the epigenetic workflow. Turiello says the dilemma at crime scenes is DNA samples collected still need to be compared to others in criminal databases in order to find a match. This new tool could make a profile in one step.

“This works just like a standard CD; It rotates on a platform that is external to our device, and automates the entire process,” Turiello said.

The device tracks chemical modifications in the DNA. The students work with professor James Landers,
in the Department of Chemistry to nail down the science behind simplifying the process with microfluidics.

“We can tell things like age, hair color, skin color, eye color. But those tests are really hard to implement in a laboratory that already has so much to do,” Turiello said. “We want to make these tests more amenable to integration for these folks.”

It could make DNA profiling faster for crime scene investigators.

“We build microfluidic devices that miniaturize standard workflows and chemical reactions on to a small scale,” Nouwairi said. “This allows us to perform those chemical reactions in a shorter amount of time. It’s much more cost effective.”

They hope to soon start a company in Charlottesville to commercialize the product. They think it could have potential in the medical field, too. They are working with UVA Licensing & Ventures to make it happen.

“We’re using it for forensic human identification, or age determination. We can also use this for something like early cancer detection,” Turiello said.

They hope to stay in Charlottesville for the start-up because of the community they have found nd the support received so far.

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