Thursday, 19 June 2014

India: DNA profiling for armed forces by 2020

The Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC) has set 2020 as the deadline for completing its ambitious project of DNA profiling and creation of a repository of all Indian armed forces personnel.

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of living organisms. DNA profiling is accepted as the most-advanced and reliable method of establishing identity of living individuals as well as dead bodies and body remnants.

Knowing the identity of each soldier, especially those deployed in the forward and high-risk areas, is critical in case of deaths in the battlefield or in action. The profiling helps to identify the remains of the soldier.

"So far, we have completed 10% of the project work ever since the new DNA-profiling lab went functional last year in the department of forensic sciences here," AFMC director and commandant Vice Admiral Sushil Kumar said on Wednesday.

Deputy commandant and dean Maj Gen Velu Nair said, "The immediate focus is on the high-risk group such as air force pilots, submariners, naval divers, navy pilots, soldiers posted in high altitudes and glaciers and those in counter-insurgency operations. We have completed profiling of the air force pilots and are now moving in a phased manner to others in the high risk group. The project will eventually cover all personnel from army, air force and navy."

"We had to train our staff at the National Forensic Laboratory in Hyderabad and all our collected samples are going to labs in Spain for validation and verification. This is a time-consuming process but, validation is vital as we can't afford any mistakes in profiling of our armed forces personnel. So far, all our samples and findings have proved correct," said Nair.

On the ongoing research related impact of environment on the health of soldiers in high altitudes and the glaciers, he said, "The project is in the last stage and we will publish the results in a medical science journal of international repute in a year's time. Prima facie our studies, over the last two-and-a-half-year, has shown that environment directly is the trigger in 75% cases of health problems suffered by the soldiers."

"We are looking into the genetic and the ethnic part by analyzing our findings to know why it occurs. Also, the idea is to prepare a road map for the army commanders to take a call on reinduction of personnel in the glaciers after a specific period and how much do we compensate them medically," said Nair.

A total of 750 troops were taken from Jammu to higher altitudes above 9,000 ft to go through stages of acclimatization. "In Ladakh region, we actually have been going every quarterly, so far we have made six to seven trips and have checked them out physically and in the labs i.e. testing blood samples at macro and micro (molecular) levels. Later, all 750 troops go turn by turn to the glaciers for 90-day stay and on their return we screen them to look for blood changes. Thereafter, we follow them up for a year to see if they may have got mild blood pressure or a clot in the vein. These are known facts but what we don't know is why it occurs," said Nair.

Profiling Facts

The project, covering over 1.13 million soldiers from Indian Army, will include Indian air force and navy personnel too as per risk and priority factors.

A DNA profiling centre and repository, costing Rs 2.5 crore, was inaugurated at AFMC, Pune in February 2012. The repository has the facility to store blood samples for up to 21 years.

Pilot exercise involving blood samples of 100 soldiers started in November 2012 for standardizing DNA profiling systems.

Full-scale operations were stuck in the medico-legal question of whether DNA profiling will be accepted as evidence in the court of law.

Sanctions from Union ministries of law and health, recognising the authenticity of the DNA extraction and tissue-typing process were then awaited.

New centre finally went functional last year.

Defence Research and Development Organisation has provided expert scientist for the profiling centre.

Thursday 19 June 2014


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