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How VERSA1100 helps process SAEK using differential extraction

Tony Nguyen who is a Deputy Sheriff Forensic Supervisor
has been in the Forensic field for approximately 22 years and
he is currently the Supervisor of the Biology Unit for the
Forensic Services Division of the Contra Costa Office of Sheriff.
Their mission is to provide the public with the highest quality of
service in the recognition, collection, preservation, scientific
analysis, and interpretation of physical evidence, and its
presentation in court.

We service a county with a population of approximately 1.3
million people. The Sheriff’s office services all unincorporated
areas of the county as well as contract cities. Cities with their
own police departments collect their own evidence and submit
it to our Laboratory for Forensic examination.



Historically when the Lab received a sexual assault kit (SAEK) the analyst would screen the swabs for biological fluids (blood, semen, and saliva) and if they were present the samples would continue on to DNA testing using a differential extraction protocol. Screening and DNA testing on SAEK kit items was often times a labor-intensive process. On average, our lab will receive approximately 7-8 cases a month.

That all changed when the State of California passed Legislation rightly mandating the examination of all SAEK kits within 120 days of collection.
The new law required agencies to perform extensive audits of their untested SAEK kits.
Hundreds of kits were inventoried and our Lab was informed of the deluge of kits that we would be receiving.
Our lab had to think of creative ways to prepare for the submission of these kits for DNA testing.
Obviously, the historical way of examining these kits was not sustainable.

Our Unit brainstormed and agreed to change our analytical approach from performing serology on all the SAEK samples to going directly to DNA testing and screening the kits for the presence of male DNA.
The difficulty was that traditional differential extractions are labor intensive, making it difficult to process the SAEKs during the 120 day timeframe if we were manually performing the differential extractions.
That’s when we discovered Aurora Biomed’s VERSA 1100 Automated Liquid Handler robot at ISHI.
We quickly realized that this robot was the solution for our new SAEK male screening process.
We bought a VERSA and validated it for use in casework.

What has been changed after purchasing VERSA1100 DD

In 2019 our Lab received 88 SAEK Kits (Sexual Assault Kit), completed 61 kits and had a backlog of 23 cases.
After implementation of the VERSA, our Lab received 146 cases (almost double from 2019), completed 162 cases and had zero backlog.
VERSA1100 DD was able to create protein fractions (for future serological testing), make slides (that an analyst would examine to determine the presence of spermatozoa on post-digest samples), and perform differential extractions on all samples.

AURORA’s Excellent Technical Support

During the Pandemic our Laboratory like other labs found it difficult to schedule preventative maintenance.
Aurora Biomed provided exceptional customer service by sending their technician to our Lab in California.
In order to do so, he had to quarantine when he arrived in California then again when he went home to Canada.
Mr. Paul identified some minor issues and addressed them quickly.
We were elated with the dedication that Aurora Biomed was willing to undergo in order to service our robot.