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Research Aims To Lessen Uncertainty for Victims of Disaster

Bond University is undertaking research to advance the methods of DNA identification, helping to bring closure to friends and families affected by natural and mass disasters.

Intense heat, water and decomposition of remains can limit conventional DNA identification methods, hampering victim identification efforts and prolonging uncertainty for distressed loved ones.

In extreme incidents, such as the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre, identifying victims can at times be impossible, leaving friends and family without the knowledge of what happened to the deceased.

Senior Teaching Fellow from the Health, Sciences and Medicine Faculty, Ms Sheree Hughes-Stamm, is conducting research that aims to improve DNA typing methods used for identification in such challenging samples. The revolutionary PhD project is being undertaken with the guidance of renowned DNA expert and Professor of Forensic Sciences Angela van Daal, Associated Professor Kevin Ashton, and Associate Professor Walter Wood.

“The structure of DNA breaks down over time with exposure to extreme environmental conditions such as intense heat, UV light and humidity, making the identification process more difficult and sometimes impossible,’’ said Ms Hughes-Stamm.

“This research aims to improve the quality and quantity of the template DNA used for identifying victims of natural and mass disasters. The end goal is to bring closure to those who would otherwise never know what happened to friends and family.’’

Ms Hughes-Stamm said the area of research had become particularly important in the wake of September 11, the Bali bombings, the 2004 tsunami and, closer to home, this week’s Victorian bushfires.

As part of the research, Ms Hughes-Stamm will expose bone samples offered by the Gold Coast’s John Flynn Hospital to different environmental conditions over varying lengths of time. The practical research will generate degraded samples such as those found in mass disasters and improvements in DNA profiling success will be documented.

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