Forensic Proteomics

Proteomics refers to the systematic identification and quantification of the proteins of a biological system – such as cell, tissue, organ or biological fluid.

ChemCentre is exploring the establishment of proteomics-based forensic methodologies, using high resolution mass-spectrometry to develop the powerful screening and quantitative analyses required.

The project has helped establish enhanced methodology for the detection and analysis of performance enhancing peptides in racehorses.

A mass spectrometry based proteomic methodology that targets other larger molecules of forensic interest, such as insulin in post-mortem coronial cases, has also been developed.

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 proteomic analysis to confirm the presence of synthetic insulins in the vitreous humour of suspected insulin overdose cases to determine cause of death.

ChemCentre researchers have also developed methodology to detect and uniquely identify nine snake venoms via their peptide markers from bite site swabs.

They have reported the first case of unequivocal identification of the Eastern Brown snake venom in a swab taken from a person who had succumbed to the injury. This unequivocal identification using mass spectrometry techniques is the gold standard within forensic toxicology.

This is a novel approach within the realm of forensic and clinical toxicology with laboratories historically relying upon immunoassay technique (which is prone to false negatives) to indicate the presence or absence of snake venom.

The ChemCentre proteomics research team is also investigating the development of protein-based human identification as a novel and innovative tool with the potential to be used by forensic investigators to associate evidence with a suspect.

Their work is exploring the feasibility to perform human hair shaft proteomic genotyping in a forensic toxicology setting. Similar to DNA, this method takes advantage of an individual’s biological variation and could be used to complement established DNA-based methods or be used when these methods fail to provide a forensically useful answer.

A core focus will be the development of this technology to the point where it can be used to infer the profile of matching genetic variation and to use this in a legal context.