Customer Spotlight: Erik Hall, Director of the Forensic Science Program at Saint Louis University (SLU)
At Saint Louis University (SLU), director of the Forensic Science Program, Erik Hall, provides students the most up-to-date methods for high quality analysis of DNA samples with data collected using the Azure Cielo 6 qPCR System.
Popularized by true crime shows and procedural dramas such as Bones, NCIS, and the CSI franchise, forensics has captured the public’s imagination. Forensic science is the application of scientific methods to matters of law; it draws on familiar fields, from biology to chemistry to computer science. Viewers tune in to watch investigators process evidence and triumphantly solve crimes. However, “unlike on CSI or these other shows, forensic scientists perform very specialized work (ie. someone is performing DNA and a different person the fingerprints, etc.),” explains Hall. “Forensic Science is an ever-changing field where you need to be on the cutting edge of technology and techniques.”
The Cielo's role in the SLU forensic science program
After over a decade of working as a DNA Analyst and Biology Technical Leader for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Crime Lab, Hall transitioned to teaching at SLU. At the Police Department, Hall shared a qPCR system with a local crime lab, but after his transition to SLU, found himself in need of his own.
What is qPCR?
Forensic students at SLU learn to process crime scene evidence for DNA, including testing to identify fluids, swabbing to collect fluids and cells, processing to extract DNA, and quantifying DNA. The University’s program prepares students for work in crime labs or crime scene processing environments, industries such as life sciences or pharmaceuticals, or graduate school. The Cielo 6 qCPR System was a great fit for students to see if there is enough material to obtain a genetic profile.
Identifying qPCR best practices for forensic processing using the Cielo
In his own research, Hall is focused on finding best practices and techniques when combining multiple analyses on a single item of evidence. Questions his lab investigates include when fingerprint and DNA analyses are both needed on the same item, what the best order in which the processes should be completed is, and can choosing specific techniques for each processing step improve the chances for success for all steps? “Fingerprint examiners and DNA analysts don’t always have these conversations. The hope of this research is to start more conversations between different sections within crime laboratories,” Hall says.
Today, Hall and his students use the Cielo to quantify extracted DNA, as DNA yield is the primary endpoint in some of their projects. “The qPCR machines are a crucial step in forensic science and one that gives us an accurate value of how much, if any, DNA we have to proceed in our processing,” he explains. For their studies, they choose to use forensic science–specific quant kits, such as the Powerquant kit from Promega, to run on the Cielo.
With the research being done with the Cielo at SLU, he hopes to spark more dialogue within crime laboratories. Unlike what is commonly seen on T.V. crime shows, real-life forensic scientists perform very specialized work. Hall’s hope is empirical data will prove the best practices to lead us to better, more robust answers. In turn, clearer answers give defense attorneys, prosecutors, and detectives better data to rely on when determining the outcomes of a criminal case. The forensic work being done at SLU aims “to make sure that the crime laboratories and others have the most up to date and best technology to ensure they provide the highest quality analysis for all cases.”
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Fingerprint methods used in crime labs and the field can make DNA extraction more challenging. The research being done with the Cielo 6 at SLU is creating new collaboration opportunities between disciplines across the forensic science field. His research has implications beyond just fingerprints and DNA- it raises the question of how various evidence processing methods affect the quantity and quality of DNA obtained from samples.
Forensic science is an ever-changing field that requires each moving part to be need to be on the cutting edge of technology. Hall’s mission with his research at SLU is to make sure crime laboratories and others have the most up to date and best technology to ensure they provide the highest quality data analysis for all cases. Check out what Hall and the forensic science students at SLU are up to by visiting their website here.
To learn more about the Cielo qPCR System and how it can fuel your thirst for data accuracy, try the Cielo free for 7 days.