Looking to the future of missing persons analysis with NGS
Turning the promise of NGS into reality
To turn the promise of NGS into reality, Parsons and his team are focusing on developing novel Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP)-based testing methods. These will identify singular mutations in the human genome and provide greater power for establishing kinship when used in large numbers. The objective is to develop highly homogeneous and cost-effective laboratory mechanisms that can be applied irrespective of the level of sample degradation. Ultimately, he hopes to make this feasible at around one tenth of the current cost by pooling samples using molecular barcoding mechanisms.
Many in the field of forensic genetics foresee that an SNP-based approach may best capitalize on the strengths of NGS, and Parsons believes that with carefully directed effort it may even replace STR analysis as the standard approach in current human ID applications. Certainly, he views NGS as the way forward, not only for the ICMP but also for the entire forensic community, allowing it to address some of the major existing challenges in missing persons investigations.
At the forefront of human identity testing
The new laboratories in The Hague mark another step in the long-standing collaboration between the ICMP and QIAGEN. The relationship dates back to the ICMP’s initial work in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where QIAGEN helped the organization implement highly efficient approaches for isolating DNA from bone. The next phase will see QIAGEN provide support in developing SNP-based assays. The new ICMP laboratory will also take delivery of the QIAGEN GeneReader NGS System, the first fully integrated NGS workflow solution.
For QIAGEN, the collaboration with the ICMP is a unique opportunity. “The ICMP is at the forefront of human identity testing around the world, pioneering methods and principles for analyzing challenging samples,” says Keith Elliott, QIAGEN’s Senior Global Product Manager in Applied Testing. “What makes the ICMP so special is their commitment to leveraging science to uphold basic human rights and justice for missing persons and their families. Working with Thomas Parsons and his team in developing Sample to Insight next-generation sequencing is a huge privilege for QIAGEN.”
Parsons believes that within the next three to five years capabilities will advance substantially from where they are today. He is dedicated to maximizing the impact of these technological advances on the ICMP’s mission. “This is a worldwide crisis on many levels; economic displacement, mass disaster, terrorism, post-conflict, ongoing conflict, all of these. We have already demonstrated some of the possibilities; now we want to expand those as broadly as we can. Our cooperation with QIAGEN is a major benefit for this objective.”
About the ICMP
Founded in 1996, since 2001 the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) has provided the benchmark for DNA identification techniques, combining forensic archeological and anthropological techniques with state-of-the-art DNA matching processes. To date, it has assisted national authorities in resolving the fate of some 70 percent of the 40,000 people who disappeared during the war in former Yugoslavia, with DNA assisted identifications of over 20,000 individuals worldwide; an unprecedented achievement. In 2015, the ICMP entered a new phase as an internationally recognized, treaty-based international organization and moved its base from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, to its new headquarters in The Hague in the Netherlands. There, the ICMP will sit alongside other institutions including the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.