Tagged / forensics

The secret information hidden in your hair

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By Dr Richard Paul, Bournemouth University.

Your hair can say a lot about you. It doesn’t just give people clues about your personality or your taste in music. It can also record evidence of how much you drink, whether you smoke or take drugs, and perhaps even how stressed you are. My colleagues and I research how hair can be used to provide more accurate testing for these attributes. And a recent court case shows how far the technology has come.

In 2008, a mother who had been struggling with alcohol abuse was asked by a UK court judging a child custody case to abstain from drinking for one year. To assess whether she managed to do this, scientists used a hair analysis that can detect long-term drug or alcohol abuse (or abstinence) over a period of many months, from just one test.

This case turned out to be a landmark moment for toxicological hair analysis. The labs analysing the mother’s hair suggested that she may have been drinking during the time she was supposed to be abstinent. The case ended up in the High Court, where the scientific principles underlying hair testing and, crucially, the way the results are reported were thoroughly debated. The judge was critical of the interpretation of the hair analysis data and disagreed with the scientists, ruling that there was no evidence to support drinking during the defined time-period.

Fast forward to 2017 and hair analysis featured in the High Court again. Yet this time the reliability of hair testing was confirmed. A lot changed in the intervening years between these cases. Technology advanced but, importantly, so did our understanding of what hair analysis data actually means.

The traditional samples for drug and alcohol testing are blood and urine. These provide evidence for cases where we require an indication of exposure to drugs and alcohol in a very recent time frame. These samples have what is referred to as a “window of detection”. This is a timeframe over which that sample can demonstrate exposure to drugs or alcohol. The window of detection for blood is often measured in hours, and urine can show evidence over a few days, possibly a few weeks.

By contrast, hair can show a retrospective history of your drug or alcohol consumption (or abstinence) over many months. This level of information makes hair testing invaluable in a wide variety of legal scenarios. If you need to screen potential employees for a safety-critical role, you can use a hair test to check they are not regular drug users. What if you’re concerned your drink was spiked at a party, but too much time has passed for any drug to still be found in your blood or urine? The drugs can remain trapped in your hair, which gives you a longer window of detection and allows scientists to find traces of the drug long after the actual crime event.

Ready for my close up. Shutterstock

My research group is investigating factors that affect the hair concentration of certain chemicals produced when the body ​processes alcohol (metabolites). This sort of work is important to give confidence to the results of hair testing when presented in court. We need the utmost confidence in the data, when a court judgment may have life-changing consequences.

We recently showed that hair sprays and waxes can greatly increase the level of alcohol metabolites found in hair, giving a false positive result in an alcohol test. In one of our experiments, a volunteer who was strictly teetotal tested negative for fatty acid ethyl esters (metabolites of alcohol) in head hair untreated with hair spray, but tested positive after application of hair spray. Not just a little positive either. The volunteer tested significantly over the threshold for chronic excessive alcohol consumption after using hair spray.

This may sound alarming for a test that is used in court, but now that scientists are aware of these limitations, procedures can be put in place to mitigate against them and guidance can be updated. Ethyl glucuronide (a different alcohol metabolite) is not affected by hair sprays and waxes and so is a better target to test when someone uses cosmetic products.

Other ways of testing

Hair is not the only alternative to blood and urine testing. I’m currently investigating whether fingernails might be a better sample to test in cases where we need to prove abstinence from alcohol. It has been shown that fingernails may incorporate significantly more ethyl glucuronide (an alcohol metabolite) than hair samples. This means fingernails may be more sensitive than hair and could be better at distinguishing low levels of drinking and complete abstinence.

Toxicological hair analysis is not about catching criminals. It’s not about penalty or punishment. It’s about helping people. Results from hair testing can help support people struggling with addiction. In the future I hope we will also be using hair analysis as a diagnostic tool in healthcare.

The research I’m conducting at the moment is evaluating the potential for hair to be used as a diagnostic marker of chronic stress. Stress can lead to very serious healthcare issues. We are examining the stress hormone cortisol to see if we can identify people at risk from future healthcare issues from the concentration of this hormone in hair.

If successful, this work will take hair analysis into a new realm. I’d like to see a future where hair testing is used for a national screening programme for older adults who are most at risk from chronic stress. This could allow scientists to target interventions to lower stress at people who need them the most, which could significantly improve the health and well-being of older people in particular.


Richard Paul, Principal Academic in Biological Chemistry, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sherlock’s Window: In search of an odourless growth medium

“A key aspect of forensic investigation is the assessment of the ‘window of opportunity’ during which death took place. Estimations using insects (e.g. blowflies) increase accuracy. Using blowflies to determine post-mortem period requires an understanding of the temperature dependent growth patterns that they develop through their life cycle. In order to understand this, blowfly larvae are reared on growth media in the laboratory.

Sherlock’s Window is a HEIF-funded project at BU which aims to produce an odourless growth medium that can be rolled out internationally for use in forensic investigation. Illustrated here is the head of a third instar blowfly larva. Maggots have no eyes, but the protrusions at the tip of the mouth area are palps, used for feeling and manipulating food particles. The rows of black barbs that are visible are used to pull the maggot forward through the food substrate.”

This was the abstract submitted to accompany Dr Andrew Whittington’s recent submission to the Research Photography Competition.

Find out more about the project in the latest edition of the Bournemouth Research Chronicle featured in the section:  “Innovation in industry:how researchers and the wider community are working together.”

Follow HEIF on Instagram to find out more about the innovation projects taking place at BU: https://www.instagram.com/heif_at_bu/

 

 

 

Game Changing Technologies for the Energy Sector – Information Webinar

 

energy managementThe Knowledge Transfer Network is organising a webinar to promote a new Innovate UK competition that will open in 2016.

Innovate UK is allocating up to £1.5m for their “Energy Game Changer” competition. The funding will be allocated to feasibility studies led by SMEs who can provide disruptive solutions to long established challenges which currently cost the energy sector hundreds of millions of pounds per year.

Amongst the high level challenges where radical multi-disciplinary solutions are sought are:

  • improving condition monitoring, inspection, handling, characterisation and repair of energy assets
  • minimising the risk and cost of operating in remote and hazardous environments
  • generating and handling ‘big data’ to optimise performance, efficiency, safety and security
  • getting individuals and communities excited and engaged in energy reducing the consumers energy bills

To encourage radical change and new ideas, the competition is specifically looking for solutions from innovative SMEs whose main business is divorced from the energy sector and can look at the challenges from new perspectives. Such organisations may be engaged in activities such as; ICT, digital, design, electronics, sensors, modelling, virtual reality, gaming, robotics, UAVs, forensics, manufacturing, inspection and advanced materials.

We also welcome technology transfer ideas from other sectors such as; defence, automotive, medical, space and creative industries.

Innovate UK is looking to fund around 20 feasibility studies of between £50-100k in size and 6-12 month duration.

The information webinar will give you the opportunity to:

  • understand the background to the competition
  • hear about the specific challenges and competition scope in more detail
  • hear about the competitions eligibility criteria, application process, funding and timescales
  • ask online questions
  • network online
  • Further physical events are scheduled for 2016.

For more information and to register click here.

300K funding for upcoming SBRI competition – Digital Forensics

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Now open  – 24 August 2015 !

The Home Office has annnounced as  SBRI call on the subject of digital forensics and how it is used to support serious crime and counter terrorism investigations.

The aim of this funding call is to seek innovative proposals to enhance the capability of law enforcement to quickly recover and thoroughly investigate information stored on the seized digital devices of suspects under investigation.

More information on this funding opportunity.

Competition briefing event, 1​4th September, London

The event, which is free to attend, is an excellent opportunity for you to receive first hand information about the competition- application process, key dates etc. as well as meet and network with peers, potential partners, market leaders & innovators in the industry.

More information on the briefing event.

New Home Office SBRI Competition – Forensics

 

Funding of £250k is available for this Phase 1 competition from the Home Office’s Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST). CAST exists to protect the public using science and technology by providing high quality, impartial advice, innovative solutions and frontline support to the Home Office and its partners, including the Police.

Across the UK last year, more than 500,000 crime scenes were examined for the recovery of forensic related material, principally, fingerprints and biological material. The challenge facing CAST is how to achieve step-change improvements to forensic processes used in crime investigation in the UK in order to increase the amount of material identified, reduce the time taken to process evidence, manage contamination and lessen disruptive interventions.

 The call for proposals will therefore focus on proof of concepts for technologies and processes which aid the rapid location and recovery of forensic material at crime scenes. The key requirement is to have the capability to quickly screen scenes or articles for the presence of fingerprints or other biological material that can be used in evidence. This may be achieved by a single technology which can locate both fingerprints and biological material, or separate technologies that can be deployed by investigators at a scene.

The competition will open on Monday 1st September, 2014 and close at midday on Wednesday 9 October 2014.

A briefing event is planned for 10 September in London. To register go to Eventbrite.

About SBRI.

For further information about this competition please visit the website . 

 

 

 

Festival events – what can we tempt you with today?

Here are a handful of Festival Events you can come along to next week – to find the full list of events head to the website, or look out for programmes around campus. See something that might interest a friend or family member? Spread the word!

As usual, just click on the links to be taken to the website to find out more and book your place

Star Wars planets: Lessons in planetary geology

Saturday 14 June

11am – 12pm, Executive Business Centre (EB306)

Consider yourself a Star Wars fan?  Come along to this fascinating event that teaches you planetary geology for the world of Star Wars:

What would it be like to live on Tatooine with two suns? Or on the ice world of Hoth, or molten Mustafar? This event will focus on a selection of ‘Star Wars’ planets. You’ll explore their geology and learn about our own planet along the way.

Run by Matthew Bennett

Have we made banking good?

Thursday 12 June

12pm – 2pm, Executive Business Centre (EB708)

Since the global financial crisis and ensuing credit crunch, there has been substantial EU and UK sector re-regulation. This panel discussion looks at whether the result is a safer banking system, focused on serving the public good.

Run by Andy Mullineux

Bug grub!

Monday 9 June

11am – 12pm, Poole House (PG73)

A good way to spend an early lunch hour perhaps?  Come along to this event and challenge your dietary perceptions

Supply of conventional protein such as meat and fish is under strain as the world supports a growing population. In order to feed the world we must be open to alternative forms of food – including bugs! Challenge your cultural palate and gastronomic sensibilities by consuming unconventional foods, which are likely to form a large proportion of the food chain in the future.

Run by Andy Boer

What does a forensic scientist really do?

Tuesday 10 June

10am – 4pm, Kimmeridge House (KG03)

One to send on to any teenagers in the family:

This event features a range of illustrated talks and practical exercises for years 10, 11, 12 and 13 students interested in forensic science. It will introduce students to a range of investigative forensic skills using observation, physical and chemical tests.

Run by David Osselton

‘Technophiles’, ‘technophobes’ and ‘technodopers’: Sport & its technology.

Tuesday 10 June

4pm – 5pm, Poole House, (Stevenson Lecture Theatre)

If you missed Bryce’s fantastic talk last year on Prosthetics technology then make sure you don’t miss out again this time!

Be it a ball thrown or a wheelchair raced, this talk highlights the role that technology plays in sport. You’ll learn its colourful history and join the debate on the many controversies that have occurred in sport. We’ll discuss how maximising the performance of technology can be the fine difference between success or failure for an athlete.

Run by Bryce Dyer

 

 

 

 

International Day of the Disappeared 2013

Dr Melanie Klinkner studies the use of forensic science for investigation and prosecution of atrocities such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Here she talks about the International Day of the Disappeared.

Today serves as a reminder of the number of people around the world who are missing as a result of armed conflicts. We remember the families who face a daily struggle to understand what has happened to their loved one.

Dr Melanie KlinknerEnforced disappearances have been and continue to be used by oppressive regimes in an attempt to dispose of political opponents secretly and to instil fear in the population. Article 2 of the Convention for the Protection for all Persons from Enforced Disappearance (2006) defines disappearances as ‘the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with authorisation, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law’.

The Red Cross work tirelessly to reunite families where possible and organisations such as the International Commission on Missing Person support identification of bodies.

In the aftermath of conflict and gross human rights violations, there is an overwhelming need of the families is to know the truth about the fate of their loved ones and, where the worst has happened, to receive their human remains as an absolute proof of death and to facilitate burial and commemoration rituals.

This need is mirrored in international human rights and international humanitarian law development, which has advanced the recognition of victim rights of national or international crimes and human rights abuses. The Basic Principles encompass the need for victims and their families to know the truth about what happened to their loved ones and demands that the bodies of those disappeared are recovered, identified and buried.

Melanie works alongside Ian Hanson and Paul Cheetham in the School of Applied Sciences, who have developed standard operating procedures for forensic investigation of mass graves. These have been used internationally in judicial and humanitarian contexts, bringing those responsible for atrocity crimes to justice and providing much needed answers to families.

Read more about the Red Cross

Dr Melanie Klinkner’s profile

International Commission on Missing Persons

Mass graves in Libya

Bournemouth University’s Senior Lecturer in Forensic Archaeology, Ian Hanson, has featured in a New Scientist article about mass graves in Libya.

New Scientist journalist Andy Coghlan visited BU's mass graves simulation exercise in July

An estimated 5000 people went missing during Gaddafi’s dictatorship and, following his death last week, the country’s transitional government is preparing to exhume and identify bodies in mass graves.

Speaking to New Scientist journalist Andy Coghlan, Ian said: “Each site should be treated as if it’s a crime scene, and you must presume there might be criminal investigations in the future.” 

Ian has advised on protocol and procedures for mass graves excavations following the Balkan and Iraq conflicts.

Since April 2009 he has spent a great deal of time in Iraq, developing further programmes that introduce new trainees to investigations, the law and science involved in recovering evidence from the many mass graves that remain in the country, and to establish competency and protocol for global scientific and legal standards.

Read the New Scientist article for more information.