This presentation discusses experimental tests of a model for drug uptake by human bone and explores how the results may be applied to detect nerve agent exposure from human remains recovered from mass graves during human rights investigations.
The ability to reliably and meaningfully conduct toxicological tests on skeletonized human remains would expand the ability of skeletal remains to inform cause of death from primarily physical traumatic causes to chemical causes as well. In humanitarian contexts, and particularly in excavations of mass graves, this may help confirm exposure to chemical weapons. However, at present, toxicological testing is not typically conducted on skeletonized human remains in forensic contexts. This is largely due to an inability to reliably interpret skeletal toxicology results, despite a recent rise in experimentation in this field. In turn, low interpretability of results is related to the current lack of an established model for the uptake of xenobiotics by the human skeleton. This presentation discusses a hypothetical model of uptake and the research currently being conducted to test the model. It also details experimental attempts to optimize the extraction and detection of xenobiotics from fresh human bone. The presented research centers on organophosphate nerve agents, due both to the chemical properties of the agents, which may make them more likely to incorporate into human bone tissue than other toxins, and to their salience in human rights investigations. The current state of forensic toxicology, bone biology and bone chemistry, nerve agent pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics, methods for isolating nerve agents from biological matrices, and methods for using bone as a toxicological matrix will also be discussed.