For Release: February 7, 2005
Contact: DMS Communications (603) 650-1492
Dartmouth Medical School Lab Blends DNA and Technology to Aid in Crime-Solving
HANOVER, NH - In an effort to harness the crime solving potential of DNA technology, the Interactive Media Laboratory (IML) at Dartmouth Medical School will train professionals to manage DNA evidence under the terms of a $1.6 million grant, awarded by the National Institute of Justice and the Office on Violence Against Women. IML will develop virtual computer-based training programs to educate personnel in the criminal justice system on the collection, preservation, and use of DNA biological evidence.
"DNA evidence could revolutionize the US justice system if the DNA technology protocols are properly understood, both in the laboratory and in the courts," said Dr. Joseph Henderson, director of the Interactive Media Laboratory and a professor of community and family medicine at Dartmouth Medical School.
Leading a team of designers and software developers at IML, Henderson has developed an innovative instructional model for computer-based professional education that is applied toward producing "virtual clinics" on a range of topics. The interactive distance learning courses, delivered on CD or the Internet, incorporate lectures, 3-D images, animation, patient and expert interviews and periodic examinations to provide comprehensive instruction regardless of the trainee's location or time constraints.
IML's newest project on DNA evidence involves educating and training two sets of professionals in the US justice system. The first course will be geared toward health care and victims services providers, training them how to respond to the concerns of the victim and methods to accurately collect the DNA evidence. The second program covers the next step, making sure that DNA information is interpreted correctly by prosecutors, judges and other legal professionals. "Since this is a relatively new area of forensics, there seems to be a knowledge gap in how to properly utilize DNA data during trials," said Henderson, who noted that instruction on responding to sexual assaults towards women will be emphasized in the training courses.
In order to ensure that all clinical information is comprehensive and up-to-date, IML is collaborating with leading experts in DNA technology and forensics. This project will include input from sexual assault clinical experts from around the country, as well as leaders at the National Forensic Science Technology Center, the FBI Laboratories, the Office on Violence Against Women, the American Prosecutors Research Institute, the National Institute of Justice and Dartmouth Medical School.
"Collaborations are absolutely crucial to the success of this project," said Joshua Nelson, administrative director of IML. "Our end goal is to make sure that the procedures and protocols that we teach in these courses will eliminate breakdowns in the field, the laboratory, and the court system so there is no doubt on the final verdict."
The IML team hopes to ease the overload of cases on the justice system. According to a presidential initiative on DNA technology, "One of the biggest problems facing the criminal justice system today is the substantial backlog of unanalyzed DNA samples and biological evidence from crime scenes, especially in sexual assault and murder cases." Henderson believes that if a laboratory technician is able analyze a sample that is collected properly, with clear labels and identification, and the prosecutors and judges could understand what that data signified, it would certainly impact the speed of the US court system.
The laboratory estimates that the DNA evidence clinics will be completed in spring of 2007. Information and samples of other IML projects can be found at: http://iml.dartmouth.edu/education/index.html.
IML's other projects include:
- "Genetics in Clinical Practice: a Team Approach," is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and used by health care professionals and students to study genetic diseases and outcomes.
- "Smoking Cessation for Pregnancy and Beyond" incorporates mini-lectures on topics from leading smoking experts and was released in July 2004.
- "Primary Care of the HIV/AIDS Patient: A Virtual Clinic" focuses on training health care providers and medical students to care for HIV patients and gives a first hand sense of the emotional impact of HIV/AIDS on individual patients.
- The "Virtual Terrorism Response Academy" (VTRA) is intended to train first responders to deal with terrorist attack involving weapons of mass destruction and will be released in Fall 2005.