Forensic Proteomics

ChemCentre is leading the world in forensic proteomics research.

ChemCentre is at the forefront of proteomics research in Australia and internationally.

Proteomics research involves the systematic detection and identification of the proteins of a biological system – such as cell, tissue, organ or biological fluid.

Our top forensic scientists are leading research to develop a technique with the potential to determine a person’s identity by analysing the proteins of individual hairs recovered at crime scenes, to help solve crimes.

A single human hair comprises a combination of protein variants which are unique to an individual, much like DNA. This protein-based human identification technique would assist police and forensic investigators to identify a suspect, victim, or missing person, by linking trace hair evidence to the individual.

The technique when developed aims to determine identity by analysing hair strands as small as one centimetre.

As part of the research, data will be generated to identify genetic variants which are representative of the genetic diversity of the WA population, and which would be used in forensic analysis. 

While initial research will focus on hair proteomics, there is potential for similar techniques to be developed to analyse ‘hard proteins’ such as in bone and teeth.

The technique has the potential to transform the forensic process of human identification, not just in the criminal justice system, but also in coronial investigations, crisis and emergency response management and disaster victim identification.

ChemCentre will work together with WA Police, PathWest (Forensic Biology), Murdoch University, Edith Cowan University, and an international research team based at the University of California, Davis, on the four-year project.

The project will also contribute valuable data towards a wider clinical collaboration between ChemCentre, the UWA Burns Research Unit and the Fiona Wood Foundation.

Pioneers in forensic proteomics methodology

We have pioneered accredited forensic proteomics methodology and analyses undertaken for the racing industry. We now routinely simultaneously screen to detect and identify approximately 40 different performance enhancing peptides in racehorses.

We have also finalised proteomic methodologies for the analysis of peptide drugs and growth hormones that have the potential for abuse and illicit distribution. This analysis assists police and border protection officers in identifying drugs or growth hormones in seized material.

Our work using proteomics methodology to identify the type of synthetic insulin in post-mortem samples has provided greater insight for the Coroner in determining the role of insulin in the cause of death.

Confirmation of an insulin overdose by toxicological analysis of post-mortem samples is rare, challenging and currently not performed in Australian forensic toxicology laboratories. ChemCentre researchers have developed methodology and successfully used proteomics analyses to confirm the presence of synthetic insulins in the vitreous humour (gelatinous tissue of the eyeball) of suspected insulin overdose cases to determine cause of death.

ChemCentre is the only accredited forensic laboratory in Australia to have a mass spectrometry-based method, using proteomics, capable of identifying the venom of a number of species of venomous Australian snakes. This capability has assisted forensic pathologists in determining cause of death.

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