The National Institute of Justice Grants recently awarded three grants totaling $833,036 to VCU. VCU was the only institution to get three grants. The faculty members and abstracts are below.
The solicitation was Research and Development in Forensic Science for Criminal Justice Purposes through the National Institute of Justice. The number of total awards for this solicitation was 46 for a total of $19,850,000 (rounded up).
1. “Methods for obtaining STR quality Touch DNA from Archived Printed” $255,047
Tracey Dawson Cruz (PI), Marilyn Miller (FRSC Faculty Collaborator)
Latent fingerprints are common sources of touch DNA found at crime scenes. Customary collection methods involve dusting, tape-lifting, and attaching the fingerprint to a paper backing card for storage, which sandwiches the DNA between adhesive and paper surfaces. Many older case files contain fingerprints acquired by the tape-lifting and backing method mentioned above, most of which have never been tested for DNA. For these types of samples, there is limited reported success as well as minimal available research on best methods for DNA processing of archived fingerprints. It is well accepted that detection of the source of the fingerprint may depend on shedder status of the individual leaving the print. Further, in many cases, it is uncommon to even collect fingerprints from paper substrates after on-scene enhancement and photography. Lastly, it is well known that outdated methods for collecting latent prints often did not include the use of gloves or other personal protective equipment and that fingerprint brushes are/were often used for multiple collections without cleaning. In this proposal we seek to determine if it is possible to obtain sufficient high-quality DNA for successful STR amplification from archived tape-lifted, paper-backed latent fingerprints. Additionally, we seek to determine the best practices for both collecting fingerprints in this manner, on scene, as well as downstream laboratory practices. Specifically, we plan to examine the effect of prints from several non-porous and porous substrates using standard enhancement powders. This will be followed by an evaluation of DNA extraction methods and lysis approaches (cuttings versus swabbing with a variety of diluents). Further, we will examine the effects of archival time on STR success, and the effects of brush reuse for collection of latent fingerprints. Lastly, source attribution will be investigated to determine if a link can definitely be established between the DNA profile obtained and the source of the fingerprint; mixtures will be documented and percentage of minor contributor alleles will be noted. Once best practices have been clearly delineated, additional studies using low-template DNA testing techniques will be explored in an effort to improve analysis results.
2. “Three-dimensional Craniofacial Variation of Modern Americans – A Visual Reference to Supplement Facial Approximation Methods” $238,863
Terrie Simmons-Ehrhardt (PI), Christopher Ehrhardt (PI), Catyana Falsetto (Maricopa County Arizona Attorney’s Office)
For many cases of skeletonized remains, all efforts of identification have been unsuccessful, and facial approximation offers a chance that someone may recognize the decedent. A significant problem with facial approximation is the lack of scientific guidelines and standardized protocols. More importantly, there is a lack of comprehensive, large-scale studies of craniofacial variation of modern Americans. Most studies have been limited by small sample sizes, analyses of one facial feature, or samples from outside of the U.S. Therefore, we propose a comprehensive investigation of craniofacial variation in modern Americans by examining a large collection of head CT scans. The primary goal of this project is to find bone measurements and features that more reliably predict soft tissue features. Subjects: Head CT scans from The Cancer Imaging Archive will be used for this study. The database consists of about 280 anonymous male and female subjects of known age and sex. Although ancestry is not available, our study proposes a morphologically-driven approach that will focus on feature variation and preclude the need for ancestry information. Partnerships: For this project, we have enlisted a forensic artist to evaluate non-metric traits of the bone and skin. This collaboration will help guide the collection of metric data and ensure that measurements are practical for forensic artists. Research Design and Methods: Phase 1 (1st month) will involve preparation of the CT scans by editing, evaluating scan quality, and generating 3D bone and skin models. Phase 2 will consist of data collection using Mimics software through placement of anthropometric landmarks on 3D bone and skin models, and collection of interlandmark distances (ILDs) and associated angles. Standard and novel landmarks will be used to evaluate bone ILDs commonly used to predict skin ILDs and explore new relationships. We will also include non-metric evaluations of facial variation to be carried out primarily by the forensic artist. Analysis: Analyses will consist of descriptive statistics, correlation analysis, and multiple linear regressions. We will use multiple linear regression to find sets of bone ILDs that are the best predictors of skin ILDs of interest.
3. “Characterization and Abuse of Electronic Cigarettes: The Efficacy of a Personal Vaporizer as an Illicit Drug Delivery System” $339,126
Michelle Peace (PI), Joseph Turner (Chemistry, Co-PI), Alphonse Poklis (SOM VCU Health System, Co-PI), Justin Poklis (SOM Pharmacology/Toxicology, Collaborator)
Electronic cigarettes have been identified as a significant hazard to public health as a delivery device for nicotine. The use of electronic cigarettes as an illicit drug delivery system is promoted on websites and presents a clear criminal justice concern in the United States. Since web forums explain methods to improve illicit drug dosing in the e-cigarette aerosol by increasing power or making DIY formulations, the purpose of this research will be to characterize electronic cigarettes and describe the efficacy with which they can deliver drugs, such as nicotine, THC, methamphetamine, and heroin. This research will be conducted through a collaborative effort between the Departments of Forensic Science, Chemistry, Pharmacology-Toxicology, and the VCU Health System Toxicology Laboratory in order to bring wide experience and analytical strength to the project. Electronic cigarettes and supplies will be disassembled and components will be defined and characterized. The concentration of drug in the e-cig vapor will be characterized as a function of wattage/temperature of the heating element in the e-cigarette. Pyrolysis products and potential bio-markers will also be assessed. Aerosol from the electronic cigarettes will be generated mechanically and drugs will be cold-trapped and collected on SPME fibers. Residue on the e-cigarette components will be analyzed. Analyses will be conducted on the Direct Analysis in Real Time Accu-TOF MS, LC-MS/MS, and dynamic headspace GC-MS.