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Nerve Agent Uptake and Detection in Human Bone - Archival
This presentation discussed experimental tests of a model for drug uptake by human bone and explores how the results may be applied to detect nerve agent exposure from human remains recovered from mass graves during human rights investigations.
The ability to reliably and meaningfully conduct toxicological tests on skeletonized human remains would expand the ability of skeletal remains to inform cause of death from primarily physical traumatic causes to chemical causes as well. In humanitarian contexts, and particularly in excavations of mass graves, this may help confirm exposure to chemical weapons. However, at present, toxicological testing is not typically conducted on skeletonized human remains in forensic contexts. This is largely due to an inability to reliably interpret skeletal toxicology results, despite a recent rise in experimentation in this field. In turn, low interpretability of results is related to the current lack of an established model for the uptake of xenobiotics by the human skeleton. This presentation discussed a hypothetical model of uptake and the research currently being conducted to test the model. It also detailed experimental attempts to optimize the extraction and detection of xenobiotics from fresh human bone. The presented research centered on organophosphate nerve agents, due both to the chemical properties of the agents, which may make them more likely to incorporate into human bone tissue than other toxins, and to their salience in human rights investigations. The current state of forensic toxicology, bone biology and bone chemistry, nerve agent pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics, methods for isolating nerve agents from biological matrices, and methods for using bone as a toxicological matrix was also discussed.

This presentation detailed research funded by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences Humanitarian and Human Rights Resource Center.

The Humanitarian and Human Rights Resource Center (HHRRC) of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) promotes the application of contemporary forensic science and forensic medicine principles to global humanitarian and/or human rights projects requiring special forensic assistance. The projects in this Webinars Series with the FTCoE are those selected for support by the International Advisory Council of the HHRRC.

This webinar was recorded in its entirety at the time of the Live event in order to capture the one on one interaction with the presenter. Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence event has been provided by the National Institute of Justice.


Katie Rubin, M.S.
Katie Rubin is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Florida. She also serves as the Laboratory Coordinator and Forensic Anthropology Analyst for the C. A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory, which provides forensic anthropology services to Medical Examiner’s Offices throughout the State of Florida. She received her M.S. in Biological Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2012...