Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review panel recommends strengthening systems in DNA profiling

SINGAPORE: A review committee set up to look into the laboratory error involving DNA profiling has recommended strengthening systems and processes to prevent or minimise the risk of a similar event happening again.

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has also completed re-testing DNA samples used in 87 criminal cases in consultation with the Singapore Police Force, the Central Narcotics Bureau and the Attorney-General's Chambers.

And the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said 25 of these cases have been reviewed so far, and the results did not lead to any change in the decisions made.



These have been stayed, unless the accused person wished to plead guilty without waiting for the re-test results. AGC is undertaking a thorough review of the stayed cases as soon as it receives the re-test reports.

The results of the re-test will be considered together with all other available evidence in order to determine the appropriate prosecutorial action to be taken in each case. The re-test results will also be forwarded to the defence, and any representations that may be made will be considered by AGC.

The review committee noted that the lab manager made an error when preparing the reagent.

Under the previous SOP, there was no separate process of verifying the composition of the preparation.

While a validation performance check was done on the reagent following international protocols, the decreased sensitivity of the test was not evident.

As such, the committee recommends direct supervision and clear SOPs for the preparation of reagents, especially when new methods are involved.

It also suggested that the laboratory's risk management framework be further strengthened in its systems and processes for error prevention, identification, timely reporting and rectification.

The setting up of a technical audit committee will also be useful in reviewing audit and accreditation reports.

The committee said the DNA Profiling Laboratory should continue with the five-yearly accreditation by the American Society of Crime Laboratort Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board and annual internal audit in order to continue holding itself to international standards and best practices.

The committee also stressed that the staffing needs for the laboratory be reviewed.

Serene Wee, Chairman of HSA Audit Committee and CEO of Singapore Academy of Law, said: "During the time of the review, we have also found that the lab was working under rather tight conditions. The workload in the last three years have come up for the lab because the technology for DNA profiling is there and so because of the need for objective evidence of DNA profiling, this contributed to the volume. There's no evidence that this volume had contributed to this error but nevertheless caused a pressure on the lab processes and systems.

"The DNA profiling lab has just recently started a second lab in Biopolis. So now there are two labs that are going on. In the setting up of the second lab, new scientists have to be trained and it takes a minimum of six months or more to train a competent scientist. During this period, there will be some pressure on the people who are running the the two labs, training the staff and dealing with the increased volume at the same time."

And so the HSA is looking at increasing the number of scientific and lab officers from the current 50 to 78.

The review committee said that the action taken by the lab manager to report the error promptly is commendable and that a letter of warning is sufficient action. It adds that no further action be taken against the lab manager.

Following the incident, the HSA lab has now purchased pre-prepared reagents. Previously, a laboratory manager would have to add water into a concentrated powdered solution to dilute it. This step has been removed.

Reagents will also be sent to HSA's Chemical Metrology Lab for verification of composition prior to use. HSA said that the pre-prepared reagent should be used in the testing process by June. The reagent in use now was prepared under supervision using established methods with its concentration confirmed by Chemical Metrology Lab.

- CNA/de

View the original article here

Source From Channel News Asia

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