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UWC Forensics Lab and Inqaba Biotech enter Beta testing of UniQ-Typer YSTR kit

Thursday 6th December, Bellville. The successful completion of the Alpha prototype of a male Y-Chromosome forensics detection kit, the UniQ-Typer, was announced on Thursday. This kit gives law enforcement agencies across the continent the ability to uniquely identify the perpetrators of crimes such as rape. This kit also finds application in familial studies. The announcement of the successful completion of the alpha prototype testing brings the hope of justice for thousands of rape victims across the continent a step closer.
Speaking on behalf of the Forensics Laboratory of the University of the Western Cape, Eugenia D’Amato gave a synopsis of the performance of the kit during its alpha phase testing, where the kit demonstrated its unique ability to discriminate paternal lines in African male populations, especially when compared to products developed for Western populations. Key to this capability is the unique database of collected DNA profiles from African populations that is continuously updated with new profile data, improving the predictive capabilities of the kit. Together, the proprietary market set and the database, create a formidable market offering that the commercial partner to the consortium, Inqaba Biotec, believes will have a significant impact in the market.
Mischa Fraser, representing Inqaba Biotec, and project manager for the development of the UniQ-Typer kit, stressed the importance of making available a dedicated product for African forensics laboratories. The impracticality of using Western developed kits was illustrated by Mr. Mpasi Lesaoana of the Lesotho Mounted Police service, who has been using the markers to populate the database with paternal lines from Lesotho. Mr Zephaniah Dhlamini of NUST in Zimbabwe spoke of a backlog of 7,500 rape kits to which the kit would be applied. He also shared with the audience his experience of using the kit to achieve a full profile from a belt that was left at a crime scene and how this genetic profile was used to exonerate a prime suspect in the case where standard somatic genetic tests had failed to generate a satisfactory profile of the suspect.
This announcement was keenly attended by representatives of the African law enforcement and forensics community from across the continent, including South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria, as an indication of the importance of this product. The kit has been under development for 15 years. The alpha prototype trials and development were funded by BioFisa a joint programme of the Finnish and South African governments. Dr Ereck Chakauya, representing the programme, highlighted how difficult it is to bring such early stage technologies to market, and praised the participants for their ability to overcome the early hurdles to commercialization.
Inqaba Biotec used the event to invite interested departments to join them as partners during the next phase of development where the beta version of the kit will be tested in forensics facilities from the Continent, and that any interested parties are invited to contact Ms. Mischa Fraser at Inqaba Biotec, or Prof. D’Amato at the University of the Western Cape, to register their interest and to participate in the development of a product ‘by Africa for Africa’. All data collected during the beta phase trial will be added to the database, further improving the products discriminatory performance. This data will also improve the ability of the product to discriminate complex samples, consisting of multiple profiles as the improved statistical power of the database will allow deconvolution of these profiles. The database was developed at the South African National Bioinformatics Institute by Prof. Junaid Gamieldien and Hocine Bendou.
Also in attendance was the acting vice-chancellor and Rector of the UWC, Prof. Vivienne Lawack, who opened proceedings, Prof. Michael Davies-Coleman, the Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, and Prof. David Pugh, Head of the Department of Biotechnology. Other dignitaries in attendance were the former rector of UWC, Prof O’Connel, and the former deputy vice-chancellor, Prof Bharuthram.