DNA Lab at UNT Health Science Center Helps Identify More Than 550 Victims
Names confirmed thanks to technology advances
FORT WORTH, Texas, Aug. 24 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) analyzes DNA from unidentified human remains for law enforcement organizations and medical examiners across the country in an attempt to put a name to a body or victim. The result, in many cases, is resolution for family members who have spent years wondering about the fate of their loved one.
In the past few years, law enforcement agencies have ramped up efforts to identify victims from unsolved “cold” cases, and the Center for Human Identification at Fort Worth was almost overwhelmed with the number of cases that flooded its office. Since 2003, more than 2,700 samples of human remains have been analyzed by the forensic experts, and the two-year backlog has been reduced by 95 percent. Of the 550 samples that resulted in identifications, 77 were “cold hits” meaning that there was no previous association between the victim and the reference sample.
“There are so many families who have been waiting for years, and are still waiting, for some type of resolution to their loved one’s disappearance,” said Dixie Peters, technical leader of the missing persons unit in the Department of Forensic and Investigative Genetics. We need to continue to find ways to reach out to these families to let them know we are here to help them. We cannot do this type of work without the involvement of the families. Many of the remains we process are victims of homicide, but no matter what the circumstances may be, each set of remains deserves to be given an identity.”
Technology improvements have played a large part in the ability of the renowned lab to match remains to reference samples provided by family members whose loved one is missing. In some cases, evidence may have been sitting in a medical examiner’s evidence closet waiting to be analyzed with new technological advances, or the victim’s family may not know about the opportunity to provide a reference sample.
With the addition of the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) at the FBI and state DNA databases, the Center for Human Identification is able to enter DNA profiles to facilitate identification with other laboratories. In fact, the UNT Health Science enters 50-60 percent of the DNA profiles in the CODIS National Missing Person DNA Database (NMPDD). When a DNA profile matches one already loaded into the database, a case can be solved that initially seemed unrelated to the evidence. In one instance, the body of a teenager who disappeared from Washington was discovered in Montana. In another, the remains of a girl from Oregon were found in California. Without the national DNA database, these seemingly unrelated events may never have been linked. And the victims could have remained in unnamed graves.
In 2010, the Center for Human Identification has helped close 83 cases, 17 of which were “cold hits.”
“While these DNA associations help law enforcement close cold cases, we acknowledge that our responsibility is to serve the families of missing persons. We recognize the importance of our work and are pleased to assist in resolving cases that have been unsolved for many years,” Peters concluded.
University of North Texas Health Science Center
The University of North Texas Health Science Center comprises the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the School of Public Health, and the School of Health Professions. Key research areas include aging and Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and physical medicine. This year, the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine was named a top 50 medical school in primary care by U.S. News & World Report for the ninth consecutive year. “Fort Worth’s medical school and more” contributes more than $400 million to the Tarrant County and Texas economies annually. For more information, go to http://www.hsc.unt.edu/.
SOURCE University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth