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New DNA testing could take hours, not weeks

Published: Sunday, March 24 2013 11:00 a.m. MDT

Jason Werking of Integenx inserts a control cartridge into the machine. Representatives from the Utah Department of Public Safety Crime Laboratory, local law enforcement agencies, District Attorney's Office, Attorney General's Office, private forensic laboratories and companies dealing with DNA collection devices, are given information Friday, March 22, 2013, on a new tool from Integenx that may be available for their use in DNA testing.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

WEST JORDAN — Law enforcement officers can now run 90-minute DNA tests that once required weeks or months to complete, thanks to a new testing tool that could immediately point to suspects or help those who had nothing to do with a crime.

Representatives from criminal technology developer IntegenX demonstrated its new RapidHIT 200 to police officers from throughout the Wasatch Front last week who came to learn more about the DNA test.

Currently, the only state-run DNA lab that is fully equipped is the Bureau of Forensic Services’ Central Lab in Salt Lake City. That lab handles requests from all police agencies throughout the state.

IntegenX officials say that any police officer would be able to use the RapidHit after practicing just two or three times.

“The most obvious reason to use a machine like this is speed,” said IntegenX spokesman Jason Werking. “Not only is it easy to train someone, but after using it a couple of times, that person can train someone else. … Being able to gather DNA and make an arrest in the same day has big implications for law enforcement.”

About the size of a small copy machine or large printer, the RapidHIT can be moved where it's needed. The equipment requires 90 minutes to examine a swab from a person’s cheek and spit out a DNA profile.

“You’re going to see it in the field more,” said Jay Henry, laboratory director for the Bureau of Forensic Services. “The crime lab will be the crime scene. You can find out a lot more at the crime scene itself.”

Hurdles remain, however, before the machine can more accurately examine a broader range of DNA samples such as hair, skin and bodily fluids. Work is under way to produce quick blood-testing capability, according to Dan Murphy, business development manager for IntegenX.

“We optimized for cheek swabs first. Right now we’re somewhat limited with other types of samples,” Murphy said. “We can’t as reliably test mixed blood samples (that contain two or more people’s DNA)."

For cheek swabs, the test uses 16 DNA-determining data points, including the 13 the FBI requires to consider the test sufficiently accurate. However, because the machine is new and has limitations testing other sample types, the FBI has yet to authorize RapidHIT to upload to the Combined DNA Index System, the criminal DNA database used by police agencies nationwide.

“We’re still looking to make that happen. We are confident it will be in the next several months,” Murphy said.

West Jordan Police Sgt. Dan Roberts said the new technology could serve as a boon to small police departments that might never be able to afford a full lab.

“Even for violent crimes, there are cases in which we simply run out of time and money to conduct these tests and get the results,” Roberts said. “That’s the sad reality of dealing with budget cuts. … This would save us a trip to Salt Lake where they’re so inundated with requests from around the state and have their own budget restraints.”

E-mail: blockhart@deseretnews.com

Twitter: benlockhart89

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