Novel DNA swab to combat worldwide sexual violence

Posted by pt91 at Sep 05, 2017 01:34 PM |
Self-examination DNA recovery technique to provide access to justice for survivors of sexual violence in developing countries

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 5 September 2017

Researchers have revealed a revolutionary DNA swab they predict will increase prosecutions of sexual violence perpetrators on a global scale.

The novel self-examination technique will allow victims to recover DNA following a sexual assault, without the need for access to proper medical care or forensic examinations. The swab is the first of its kind.

Researchers from the University of Leicester developed this technique to collect DNA evidence from victims of sexual violence in low-resource environments, such as conflict zones, developing countries, and displaced communities, including refugee camps.

It is hoped that the swab will offer access to forensic evidence for millions of women worldwide, providing victims with access to justice that may otherwise be unavailable.

The research project is led by Dr Lisa Smith from the University of Leicester’s Department of Criminology. Together with industry partners Thermo Fisher Scientific and Copan Technologies, they’re finalising the design following a successful pilot test of the prototype.

They will travel to Kenya later this year to demonstrate the technique to various stakeholders – including police investigators, prosecutors, NGOs, and survivors of sexual violence.

Dr Smith, Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of Leicester, explained: “Globally millions of women, men, and children are victims of sexual violence and these crimes have devastating impacts on individuals, families, and communities. We hope that this research will help to raise awareness of the issue of sexual violence against vulnerable people in developing countries, conflict and post-conflict settings, and displaced communities, and encourage international organisations to engage with innovative ways to use forensic science to give victims of sexual violence access to justice around the world.”

Prof Mark Jobling, Professor of Genetics at the University of Leicester, said: “DNA analysis is used routinely in the UK and other developed countries, and we take it for granted as a tool that provides key evidence in cases of sexual violence. In much of the world, unfortunately, that’s not the case. It’s exciting to be working on a project that aims to put that right by making cutting-edge DNA profiling methods available in Kenya, and ultimately in other parts of Africa and the developing world.

Sexual violence has devastating impacts on millions of victims worldwide, and is notoriously difficult to investigate and prosecute. In low-resource environments, victims are often unable to access justice and perpetrators are not identified and held accountable, commonly due to a lack of physical evidence to support prosecutions.

It is hoped that self-examination evidence recovery kits will be available for field testing and distribution in high-risk areas in 2018.


For more details, or to arrange interviews with the winners, please contact:

Jessica Rowley, PR Officer, British Science Association

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Notes for editors:

1. About Dr Lisa Smith

Dr Lisa Smith is an Associate Professor in Criminology at the University of Leicester, and Programme Coordinator of the EU-funded INTREPID Forensics doctoral training network (  Her research focuses on the role of forensic science in the criminal justice system, including the uses (and misuses) of forensic evidence in the courtroom and human factors which influence the collection, analysis and interpretation of evidence.

2. About Prof Mark Jobling

Mark Jobling is Professor of Genetics and the University of Leicester, and carries out research into the nature, causes and applications of human genetic diversity, including the analysis of DNA in forensics. He has particular expertise in the male-specific Y chromosome, and in implementing new DNA sequencing methods in forensic contexts.

3. About the Research

The multidisciplinary research team includes colleagues from the Department of Genetics and Genome Biology, as well as psychologists from the University of Birmingham and Coventry University, international NGOs, and industry partners.  They have recently published the results of a pilot study in Science and Justice, which involved testing an innovative self-examination DNA recovery swab (patent pending) to determine the suitability for use on the ground in challenging circumstances, in order to overcome technical and cultural barriers which currently exist in low-resource regions.

4. About the University of Leicester

The University of Leicester is led by discovery and innovation – an international centre for excellence renowned for research, teaching and broadening access to higher education. It is among the top 25 universities in the Times Higher Education REF Research Power rankings with 75% of research adjudged to be internationally excellent with wide-ranging impacts on society, health, culture and the environment.

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5. About the British Science Festival

The British Science Festival is one of Europe’s largest science festivals and regularly attracts hundreds of the UK’s top scientists and speakers to discuss the latest developments in science with the public. Over 10,000 visitors attend the talks, discussions and workshops. Registration is free for journalists and gets you access to hundreds of events. The Festival takes place at a different location each year. The 2017 Festival will take place from 5 – 9 September, co-hosted by the Universities of Brighton and Sussex. For further information, visit @BritishSciFest #BSF17

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With over 20,700 students studying across five campuses in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings the University has a major presence in Brighton and Hove and more widely across Sussex. The University’s wide-ranging research has been assessed as world-leading in a number of areas, including Computer Sciences and Infomatics and Sports and Exercise Science and as internationally excellent in the areas of Engineering and Earth Sciences.

In addition to its internationally renowned teaching, practice and research in the arts and design it is also one of the UK’s leading teacher training universities and a major Higher Education provider for healthcare and engineering professions. In partnership with the University of Sussex and local NHS the University of Brighton supports the Brighton and Sussex Medical School which is rated by students as the best in the UK.

7.     About the University of Sussex

The University of Sussex is a leading higher education and research institution near Brighton, in the south of England with approximately 14,000 students, of which over a third are postgraduates. Creative thinking, pedagogic diversity, intellectual challenge and interdisciplinarity have always been fundamental to a Sussex education.

The University delivers teaching and learning programmes that are informed by current research are attractive to students from all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, and which deliver skills for life. Sussex is a leading research university, as reflected in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). Over 75 per cent of research activity at Sussex is categorised as world leading (4*) or internationally excellent (3*) in terms of originality, significance and rigour.

8.      About the British Science Association

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