Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2017, $369,224)
As submitted by the proposer:
Rapid and efficient processing of sexual assault evidence will accelerate forensic investigation and decrease casework backlogs. Therefore, the standardized protocols currently used in forensic laboratories will need continued innovation to handle the increasing number and complexity of samples being submitted to forensic labs. To our knowledge, currently no rapid and portable forensic screening technology based on a confirmatory test for sperm to identify the most probative samples in a sexual assault kit is available.
For this project, the researchers propose to develop a novel sample screening tool, i.e., a microchip-integrated with an innovative cell phone imaging platform that records, processes images, and transfers data to a virtual machine for further investigation and storage. The microchip integrated with a cell phone-based imaging platform will: (i) precisely and rapidly screen forensic samples (<10 minutes after sample preparation on-chip); (ii) provide a direct sperm identification in the mixed cell population by eliminating the other cell types out of the channel prior to imaging; (iii) differentiate sperm cells from other cells and cellular debris, especially epithelial cells; (iv) process multiple samples at one time on the same microchip with multiple channels; (v) compute imaging on a cell phone-based application and transfer the data to a secured virtual machine/cloud platform; (vi) selectively capture sperm from sexual assault samples; (vii) be sensitive within a forensic cut-off (with ±10% error range); (viii) provide cost-effective and timely solution to a problem which in the past has taken a great deal of time; and (ix) handle small volumes of sample (5-10 microliters).
To fulfill this goal, the researchers will first develop a portable, cell phone-based system and an embedded mobile application for screening forensic samples and fabricate microchips with multiple channels to process multiple samples at one time on the same device (Aim 1).
The researchers will then integrate the cell phone imaging platform and mobile application with disposable microchips as a direct confirmatory test to screen and differentiate sperm from other cell types in forensic samples. The researchers will evaluate the integrated platform with a statistically relevant number of mock sexual assault samples through their collaboration with the Broward Sheriffs Office Forensic Laboratory (Aim 2).
The researchers will conduct a validation study of their microchip integrated with cell phone imaging system, and correlate with currently used methods in the forensic laboratories.
Through their commercial partner (DxNow), the researchers aim to commercialize a next generation system to accelerate the sample screening process for forensic investigations (Aim 3).
Note: This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law, and complies with Part 200 Uniform Requirements - 2 CFR 200.210(a)(14).