David Kirkpatrick

June 18, 2009

Supreme Court fails DNA testing case

Filed under: et.al. — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:50 pm

In a 5-4 decision (take a guess at the line-up on both sides of that vote), the Supreme Court ruled convicted prisoners do not have the right to DNA testing to attempt to prove their innocence. The majority cited the fact 46 states already allow for DNA testing post-conviction as reason that ability should remain with the states.

If these contentious 5-4 ruling keep happening with the same five siding for the power of statism and corporate interests over individual liberty I’m guessing the Roberts court will be seen as phenomenally regressive.

Many of the current court’s decisions run against popular sentiment and even against the stated judicial views of those deciding in the majority. There is a very real sense of situational justice at play, and that is not the role of the Supreme Court.

From the link:

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a dissent expressing his dismay that the majority had chosen to approve of Alaska’s denial of the evidence sought by the defendant. “The DNA test Osborne seeks is a simple one, its cost modest, and its results uniquely precise,” Justice Stevens said.

Since 1992, 238 people in the United States, some who were sitting on death row, have been exonerated of crimes through DNA testing. In many of those cases, the DNA testing used to clear them was not available at the time of the crime.

But several aspects of the Osborne case did not make the defendant a sympathetic one, so perhaps his case was not the ideal vehicle for those hoping that the nation’s highest court would find a constitutional right to “post-conviction” DNA testing — that is, after the normal appeals have been exhausted.

Here’s Reason mag’s Radley Balko on the case:

Representing the convicted man, the Innocence Project argued that a right to access a simple test that could establish actual innocence would be covered by the Constitution’s due process clause.

I wrote about the case, District Attorney’s Office for the Third Judicial District v. Osborne, for The Daily Beast last March.

Update: via @radleybalko, head below the fold for the Innocence Project’s reaction. (more…)

September 21, 2008

DNA testing in the field

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:47 am

From the release/media placement:

Landers Lab Micro-Sizes Genetics Testing

September 18, 2008 — Using new “lab on a chip” technology, James Landers hopes to create a hand-held device that may eventually allow physicians, crime scene investigators, pharmacists, even the general public, to quickly and inexpensively conduct DNA tests from almost anywhere, without need for a complex and expensive central laboratory.

“We are simplifying and miniaturizing the analytical processes so we can do this work in the field, away from traditional laboratories, with very fast analysis times, and at a greatly reduced cost,” said Landers, a University of Virginia professor of chemistry and mechanical engineering and associate professor of pathology.

Landers published a review this month of his research and the emerging field of lab-on-a-chip technology in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

“This area of research has matured enough during the last five years to allow us to seriously consider future possibilities for devices that would allow sample-in, answer-out capabilities from almost anywhere,” he said.

Landers and a team of researchers at U.Va., including mechanical and electrical engineers, with input from pathologists and physicians, are designing a hand-held device  — based on a unit the size of a microscope slide — that houses many of the analytical tools of an entire laboratory, in extreme miniature. The unit can test, for example, a pin-prick-size droplet of blood, and within an hour provide a DNA analysis.

“In creating these automated micro-fluidic devices, we can now begin to do macro-chemistry at the microscale,” Landers said.

Such a device could be used in a doctor’s office, for example, to quickly test for an array of infectious diseases, such as anthrax, avian flu or HIV, as well as for cancer or genetic defects. Because of the quick turnaround time, a patient would be able to wait only a short time onsite for a diagnosis. Appropriate treatment, if needed, could begin immediately.

Currently, test tube-size fluid samples are sent to external labs for analysis, usually requiring a 24- to 48-hour wait for a result.

“Time is of the essence when dealing with an infectious disease such as meningitis,” Landers said. “We can greatly reduce that test time, and reduce the anxiety a patient experiences while waiting.”

Landers said the research also dovetails with the trend toward “personalized medicine,” in which medical care increasingly is tailored to the specific genetic profile of a patient. Such highly specialized personalized care can allow physicians to develop specific therapies for patients who might be susceptible to, for example, particular types of cancers.

Simplifying genetic testing, and reducing the costs of such tests, could help pave the way toward routine delivery of such personalized care based on an individual’s genetic profile.

Hand-held micro labs also would be useful to crime scene investigators who could collect and analyze even a tiny sample of blood or semen on the scene, enter the finding into a genetic database, and possibly identify the perpetrator very shortly after a crime has occurred.

Likewise, agricultural biotechnologists could do very rapid genetic analysis on
thousands of hybrid plants that have desirable properties such as drought and disease resistance, Landers said.

“We can now do lab work in volumes that are thousands of times smaller than would normally be used in a regular lab setup, and can do it up to 100 times faster,” he said. “As we improve our techniques and capabilities, the costs of fabricating these micro-analysis devices will drop enough to employ them routinely in a wide variety of settings.”

Landers even envisions home DNA test kits, possibly available for purchase from pharmacies, that would allow individuals to self-test for flu or other diseases.

His colleagues at U.Va. include Mathew Begley, professor of mechanical engineering; Molly Hughes, assistant professor of internal medicine, and Sanford Feldman, director of the Center for Comparative Medicine.

— By Fariss Samarrai