The collaboration will combine the advantages of Pressure BioSciences’ (PBI's) pressure cycling technology (PCT) platform with the forensic experience and expertise of FIU, with the aim of reducing the rape kit testing backlog.
The two will work on the development of a rape kit test method based on the PCT platform, and hope to have a commercial product available within the next 18 months.
There is an enormous pent-up demand for such a product, with the backlog of untested rape kits in the US estimated at 400,000, and with an estimated 180,000 sexual assault cases reported annually, that number looks in little danger of going down as things stand.
The collection of biological samples on cotton swabs for forensic analysis has been standard practice for many years, but the recovery of high quality DNA from these swabs is very difficult, as the biological sample is often trapped in the swab's cotton fibers, resulting in a loss of precious evidence, PBI said.
The problem is particularly prevalent with rape kits, where the male suspect's DNA must be isolated from a complex mixture of male and female cells.
A recent publication by doctors McCord and Nori of FIU discussed a novel, PCT-based technique that showed decreased processing times and higher yields while using inexpensive reagents on a semi-automated platform.
“We are excited by this opportunity to expand the range of applications of PCT in forensic analysis, specifically to assist in the development of a rapid and direct alternative to current methods for the analysis of rape kits,” said Dr Bruce McCord of FIU.
“In this project, we will further improve and validate this new PCT-based method. We believe this method will be able to isolate male and female DNA, even in situations where trace amounts of male DNA remain. We also believe that this PCT-based method could be significantly faster and provide improved sample recovery when compared to current methods. These advantages should be well received by the forensic community," he added.
Richard Schumacher, president and chief executive officer of PBI, said: "The progress that Dr McCord and his team have recently made is very impressive: we believe they are now very close to the development of a ‘next generation’ PCT-based rape kit.
“Because of this progress, and because their future success requires immediate financial and scientific support, FIU and PBI have agreed to enter into a 16-month collaboration. During this time, PBI will offer FIU scientific and engineering support, to help optimize and streamline the method. PBI will also grant $70,000 to FIU over the term of the collaboration to help cover the costs of personnel and lab supplies," he added.
"We believe this new method offers an important potential breakthrough in the recovery of high quality DNA from cotton swabs. We further believe that combining the capabilities, knowledge, and our shared interest in an effective outcome, we can more effectively move this innovative method down the path to successful commercialization," Schumacher concluded.