Hallam find new method to detect blood in fingerprints

Sheffield Hallam University
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Police cold case reviews could benefit from a new technique developed by scientists from Sheffield Hallam University that can allow for the detection and visualisation of blood in fingerprints.

Researchers from the University's Biomolecular Research Centre (BMRC) have been using Advanced Mass Spectrometry to identify blood-specific proteins in fingermarks and stains and the method has been shown to be applicable to palm prints as old as nine years as well as to 30-year-old stains.

The technique, known as matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation mass spectrometry (MALDI-MS), is a powerful technology normally used to map different molecules within tissue sections. The different proteins that make up blood are broken down into smaller masses (peptides) to allow for the analysis to take place and to identify the peptides that make up the blood-specific proteins in stains and fingermarks.

As well as being able to use MALDI-MSI to test for traces of drugs and other substances in a fingermark, the research team has collaborated with scientists from the University of Naples, Italy, to further develop the method to determine whether the blood belongs to a human or an animal, and more specifically, the animal species, in just five minutes.

Following an extended collaboration with a fingerprint expert from the Minnesota Bureau of Investigation in the United States, this aspect of work was published in the journal Analyst earlier this year. The project has been part-funded by the Home Office's Centre for AdvancedScience and Technology and recently the team has been able to improve the versatility of the method by retaining the integrity of the fingermark ridge pattern, which is vital when creating a criminal profile, as well as link the suspect's identity to an incident involving bloodshed.

This latest development has recently been published in the Journal Proteomics and this is the first time a method of this kind has ever been developed and used to identify and visualise the presence of blood in fingermarks without destroying them.

Project lead, Dr Simona Francese of the BMRC, said: "In forensics, the detection of blood relies on a number of tests that are largely presumptive. This means that they may indicate the presence of blood, whether as visible red stains or invisible, when in fact blood is not actually present.

"This is because these tests use reagents that are not specific to blood and this could therefore have the potential to lead to a miscarriage of justice or a delay in the resolution of a criminal case.

"Our methodology enables the specific and sensitive detection or identification of blood, both in stains and in fingermarks. This intelligence can be crucial in high profile crimes such as homicides as it could help to steer the investigation in the right direction and therefore result in a speedier and correct course of justice."
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