Q&As

Dr Brian McDonald on DNA Analysis

Monday November 13, 2017

Brian McDonald graduated from the University of WA in 1981 with a BSc(Hons)  and a PhD in Pathology. In 2002 he was awarded a Fellowship of the Human Genetics Society of Australasia (FHGSA) in Molecular Genetics. From 2004 Brian ceased being a director of testing laboratories and has maintained a consultancy service in Forensic and Diagnostic DNA testing matters. He has established and directed DNA testing facilities for Human genetic diagnostics in both the public and commercial settings. Three of those laboratories obtained Accreditation to either the ISO 17025 standard for Forensic DNA analysis or the ISO 15189 standard for Human Diagnostic DNA testing. Brian has been involved as an expert witness regarding DNA evidence since the introduction of DNA evidence in courts in Australia. The first case of R v Tran (NSWSC 1990) was the first successful challenge to DNA evidence, in that matter sent to Cellmark in the UK. R v Pantoja (NSWSC) saw the first introduction of the current Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) into evidence in criminal matters in Australia by DNALABS directed by Brian. In 1996 Brian was director of DNALABS that was the first laboratory to be accredited under the newly developed NATA guidelines for Forensic and Diagnostic DNA testing under the ISO17025 standard. He was also involved in the updated drafting of Genetic Testing guidelines for Parentage under the Family Law act and served as a NATA laboratory assessor for Diagnostic and Paternity testing. Brian has been involved in over 1000 criminal cases appearing in over 200 in Australasia, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei and reported over 5000 DNA Parentage testing cases for the Family court. Over this period the field has seen great changes in terms of DNA testing technologies that has put great demands on all practitioners to maintain currency, these seminars are an effective way of achieving such currency.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Brian recently to discuss key challenges and opportunities facing the industry today.

You can find the full Q&A below.

What are some of the key trends and developments in the analysis of DNA?

The trend for some time has been to report DNA samples that contain less DNA and more contributors. What is clearly lacking is the effective validation of the methods and appropriate Proficiency testing of the laboratories.

What’s one mistake you see lawyers make when the integrity of DNA sample  is on the table?

Failing to assess the handling and acceptance of laboratory reporting guidelines. Ask to see search video's and ask to see all the evidence not just what the prosecution deemed relevant. The integrity of the sample should always be assessed

Do you think the practice of  covert DNA sampling and missuse of the criminal DNA database by Police is something criminal practitioners should pay attention to?

Every sample on a database means a sample has been collected from a person, sometimes a number of samples from a number of cases. Covert sampling places great responsibility on Police to properly manage covert samples. No procedures exist and even when they do for both crime scene and reference samples evidence suggests they can be inadequate. The placing of scene item profiles on a database with a link to Police Officer who then provides the name of the 'unknown' contributor I consider a breach of the guidelines but appears widespread.

Are there an particular considerations you think people should keep their eye on in relation to introductions of new technologies in DNA Analysis?

As alluded to above, validation is essential. At present a number of procedures are in widespread use in the face of published validation studies that establish the procedures are not fit fit for purpose. The accreditation bodies appear ignorant to the fact possibly because the same scientists are accrediting their own procedures.

What’s one tip you can offer when dealing with a potential misuse of criminal DNA database?

First identify what samples were involved in the database hit and all samples and matters associated with the person identified. A standard audit should be mandatory when such cold hits are reported. If the lab wont do it the legal profession must. The Fama case in Victoria i believe identified by a prosecutor NOT the lab. Again the accreditation bodies have a role to play

You can hear more from Brian at the Evidence Examined in Criminal Matters seminar, being held on Friday 17 November at the Parmelia Hilton Perth.

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