SAMPLE TRACKING AND MANAGEMENT

Information technology can be one of the most overlooked aspects of a DNA-based identification effort following a mass disaster. Advance planning for using information technology in sample tracking and management saves time, speeds identification, and improves testing reliability.

Without sophisticated software, the nearly 1,600 identifications made and nearly 20,000 human remains profiled in the World Trade Center identification effort would not have been possible. A laboratory responding to a mass fatality event must be prepared to track the physical location of each sample and the data associated with it through the entire identification process. The KADAP report considers sample accessioning, naming and numbering schemes, and advises how to handle the possibility that remains are commingled. The report also discusses matching and statistics software, and ways to organize, store, and retrieve data; integrate different software systems; allow technical and administrative review of data; annotate problems and resolutions, report metrics; and track samples among partner laboratories.

Finally, the report explores the difficulties that can arise when working with reference samples, such as toothbrushes, razors, and medical biopsy specimens. A laboratory must keep in mind that bereft loved ones can inadvertently misidentify reference samples and misspell names or nicknames. Family members may also be mistaken in their belief that a missing relative was the only person to use a toothbrush: mixed DNA profiles will eliminate an item as a single-source reference. Other complications include assumed, but incorrect, parentage. The KADAP report discusses chain-of-custody documentation and how essential the managing and tracking of sample collection is to the identification process.