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Adapting Newborn Blood Testing Procedures to Forensic Toxicology

The standard method for collecting and storing blood samples from newborns might be useful for forensic toxicology.
Date Published
January 4, 2017

In newborn units at hospitals across the United States, a few drops of blood are routinely taken from every baby’s heel, dried on paper, and then tested for a host of diseases and genetic issues. This well-established procedure has been in use for decades and is considered important in screening for problems not immediately apparent when a baby is born.

That same procedure, known as dried blood spot (DBS) testing, can be used in forensic toxicology examinations and would benefit both forensic laboratories and the judicial system, according to researchers from RTI. The researchers, supported by an NIJ award, examined dried blood spots for evidence of 28 drugs and metabolites. The specific goal of their work was to determine if DBS analysis could produce results comparable to traditional drug analysis and, when combined with mass spectrometry, be sensitive enough for quantification of “drugs of abuse” typically encountered in forensic labs.

The research showed that when using a technique called quantitative liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry, the results with DBS were comparable to standard drug tests on whole blood. “The success of DBS analysis for use in forensic laboratories,” the researchers said, “not only impacts the way samples are analyzed, but also the way in which they are stored, transported, and in many instances, collected.”

They noted that because such a small sample is required for a successful test, the method is particularly useful when only limited samples are available, and “this impacts the judicial system by allowing for toxicological analysis from samples that might otherwise go untested.” In addition, because the DBS samples are small, they are easy to store, which can be a serious issue in forensic labs that must test and maintain high numbers of samples.

Although the dried blood sample method is well established for use with babies, “it has not been applied in forensic toxicology,” they said. The tests they conducted were all within the guidelines of the Society of Forensic Toxicologists.

About this Article

The research described in this article was funded by NIJ cooperative agreement number 2013-DN-BX-K017, awarded to RTI International.

This article is based on the grantee report Dried Blood Spot Analysis as an Emerging Technology for Application in Forensic Technology (pdf, 30 pages), by Nichole Bynum, Katherine Moore, and Megan Grabenauer, RTI International.

Date Published: January 4, 2017