Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico
Health

Forensic Biochemistry: Development of Biosensors for Forensic Analysis

As part of King’s Forensics, the Forensic Biochemistry group headed by Dr Nunzianda Frascione investigates the nature and evidential use of forensic trace evidence such as biological fluids, touch DNA and fingermarks. Such traces are often the most important forms of evidence encountered within forensic casework and their presence may help support or refute victim, suspect or witness claims about events. The group works closely, both on a technical and operational level, with police forces, forensic providers, and government-associated laboratories on several research streams.

Determining the presence of biological fluid depositions may be considered paramount to many forensic investigations, with fluid detection and identification often elucidating the circumstance and severity of a criminal offence. Furthermore, successful fluid recovery can yield a highly valuable source of genetic material, which may in turn associate an individual with a specific place, object or event. However, unless immediately visible, ascertaining the location of a fluid deposit can be very challenging, with a meticulous visual examination by trained personnel presently being the most effective method of detection. Small or transparent fluid traces, particularly those deposited on dark backgrounds, may often be missed. Current presumptive tests are impaired by several well-characterised limitations. The demand is therefore apparent for new fluid detection strategies that would allow for the simultaneous localization and accurate identification of biological fluid deposits. Fluorescent biosensor technology shows exciting potential for the development of novel body-fluid identification methods that may enable the non-destructive detection and localization of biological evidence based on interaction with highly specific intra-fluidic targets. The research focuses on the fabrication of antibody-, aptamer-, peptide-based sensors, not only for biological fluids, but also for other forensically relevant targets and surfaces. This includes, for example, the design of a multiplex fluorescent biosensor for the specific, sensitive and real-time detection of nerve agents in situ, without the need for specialist equipment. The successfully developed platforms are also currently being investigated and adapted to allow the ‘stand-off’ visualization of SARS-CoV-2 deposits and the effective monitoring of surfaces potentially contaminated with viral particles.

Investigators

Dr James Gooch

Research Fellow

Sireethorn Tungsirisurp

Research Associate

Robert Ziolek

Research Associate

Mark Green

Professor 

Chris Lorenz

Professor

Hayley Costanzo

PhD Student

 

Aims

  • To design and develop ‘turn-on’ probes able to produce a fluorescence response only upon interaction with specific targets, delivering real-time analysis.
  • To test such biosensors under real application conditions in order to bridge the gap between the developmental stage of the technology and its implementation within an operational context.

Methods

Both analytical and in-the-field

Trial designs

Proof of concept followed by trials in different environments

Impact

The group reported for the first time the development of a range of biosensors able to detect small biological fluid traces in situ on surfaces of forensic interest, whilst simultaneously identifying their tissue source. Successful employment of this research within routine forensic casework would likely result in a drastic improvement to the biological analysis capabilities of Evidence Recovery Units and would help avoiding future miscarriages of justice by preventing the potential for missed evidence (as seen in the high-profile cases of Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor). The intrinsic flexibility of the developed sensors allows the adaption to several forensically relevant targets and their successful construction is also likely to have a much larger implication beyond the field of forensic science.

Project status: Ongoing

Principal investigators

nunzianda-frascione

Dr Nunzianda Frascione

Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science

Funding

  • Funding body: Home Office, UK
  • Amount: £765,000
  • Period: September 2014 - September 2024

Keywords

  • Forensics

News & Events