Beef up staff for the DNA Profiling Lab: Review Committee

A media briefing chaired by Mr Roy Quek (second left), Deputy Secretary from the Ministry of Health was held on January 3, 2012 on the retesting of DNA samples for criminal cases.

SINGAPORE - Following the laboratory incident where DNA was tested using a higher concentration of a reagent, a review committee has released its recommendations

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This includes reviewing and addressing the staffing needs of the lab in view of its workload.

The Review Committee noted that the number of samples received for testing by the DNA Profiling Laboratory (DNAPL) has increased within the last few years, without a corresponding increase in manpower.

While they noted that there is no evidence to suggest that the increase in workload contributed to the error, the committee pointed out that it still provides a potential stress on the laboratory.

The discovery of the higher concentration reagent used during a period from October 2, 2010 to August 3, 2011 resulted in the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) having to re-test DNA samples in 87 criminal cases.

A committee was then set up in January 2012 to review the human error made by a laboratory manager when preparing the reagent.

The Committee also said it noticed that there was no separate process of verifying the composition of the preparation.

It recommended that there be clearly defined protocols for the preparation of reagents including checks on the preparation process.

On a positive note, the committee acknowledged that DNAPL had taken prompt actions to discontinue the use of the Reagent and to assess its scientific impact in consultation with external experts.

There was active communication and continual engagement by HSA with its stakeholders, and HSA adopted an open and transparent approach in informing the public of the incident, it said.

In view of the commendable action by the Laboratory Manager to report the error promptly, the committee recommended that no further action be taken against the Laboratory Manager beyond the letter of warning issued.

In response, HSA assured the public that it has since taken actions to strengthen its processes.

DNAPL now purchases commercially-prepared reagents, where available.

Any other reagent preparation is done under additional direct supervision, HSA said.

HSA said it will also work with the HSA Board to set up a Technical Audit Committee comprising relevant external experts to provide guidance on DNAPL and other Laboratories.

yamadak@sph.com.sg

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