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Fresh move to set up DNA lab in Peshawar

May 20, 2013

PESHAWAR, May 19: Fresh moves are afoot for establishing a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing laboratory at Peshawar’s department of forensic medicine and technology, Khyber Medical College, with a multi-million rupee investment, according to officials.

A proposal to this effect has been forwarded to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa health department with a request to include the proposed plan in the provincial government’s next financial year’s annual development plan, taking effect on July 1, 2013.

“The space for establishing the lab is ready with three rooms, including one each for sample collection, sample extraction, and sample processing, but the lab remains to be set up,” said an official privy to the matter.

The proposed lab, said the official, required an estimated Rs58 million investment, including procurement cost of an imported DNA sequencer, a machine for conducting DNA test. The department of forensic medicine and technology, said an official, had already procured a PCR (polymerised chain reaction) machine to produce millions of copies of specific DNA sequence in a couple of hours’ time for the proposed lab.

Besides, the project involves annual recurring costs, including payment of salary to staff members to be hired for running the lab. In this respect, the health department, said an official, had already sanctioned two posts, including a position for a molecular biologist, a grade-18 post, and a technician, a grade-9 position.

The project was conceived in 2010-11 and a proposal was originally submitted to the authorities concerned back then, but it remains to be implemented due to, what an official concerned described as, negligence on the part of the previous government.“People at the helm of affairs in the previous government put up a deaf ear to the need for having a DNA testing facility, though there was an emergent need,” said the official. The facility, he added, was needed not only to investigate criminal cases, for example a suicide bombing case or establish identity in a maternity/paternity related case, but it was essential for academic purposes as well.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s leading medical teaching institution, Khyber Medical College, certainly needs to have a DNA profiling facility at its premises for the benefit of its students.

However, the need for the province to have a DNA testing lab at Peshawar was felt because of increase in suicide bombings in the province during the past few years.

Since the province does not have a DNA testing lab of its own, the police investigators probing suicide bombing cases send samples (reference sample in medical terms) of the suicide bombers either to Punjab Forensic Sciences Lab at Lahore or KRL Institute of Technology near Islamabad. Each test costs more than Rs20,000. Apart from the cost factor, it takes longer to get the results from laboratories outside Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“We collect samples of suicide bomber(s) for the police department’s forensic science lab which sends the same either to PFSL or KRL Institute,” said an official of the department of forensic medicine and technology.

He said other than the investigation purposes, the facility was needed out of academic requirements because ‘medical students need to be taught how to collect DNA samples.’

“They (students) are taught DNA profiling techniques, but there is a need to have a lab where they could practically learn the technique to collect, extract and process a reference sample,” said the official.

An official concerned, when contacted, said that the department of forensic medicine and technology, being an investigating arm of the police department, received several cases of determining DNA profile in maternity/paternity claims filed with the courts.

“In such cases, the department dispatch the sample(s) of the subject to Lahore since there is no facility in Peshawar, costing good amount of money to litigants,” said the official.