Erasmus MC Press Release Rotterdam, 22 November 2010
Estimating age using a drop of blood
New research method promising in tracking down unknown offenders of crimes and victims of disasters
Erasmus MC researchers have found a method making it possible to estimate the age of an unknown person from just one drop of blood originating from this person. The estimated age is a clue in tracking down the unknown offender of a crime or in identifying the victims of disasters. The researchers have published their findings in the journal ‘Current Biology’.
To date, it was necessary to have material such as teeth or bones to determine the age of an unknown person. However, at most crime scenes only traces of blood can be found. This made it necessary to determine a way in which the age could be estimated from blood. Prof. Manfred Kayser, professor of Forensic Molecular Biology at Erasmus MC: “We used the observation that certain DNA molecules in some blood cells decrease with age. Based on this, we developed a reliable and sensitive, but simple, test enabling prediction of the age category of the person from whom the blood droplet originated. We are now trying to make the age determination using a drop of blood more accurate.”

In addition to being able to track down unknown offenders of crimes, the method also offers clues in identifying victims of, for example, train disasters, natural disasters or bomb attacks. In contrast to airplane disasters, for example, it is generally unknown which victims have been involved in these kinds of disasters. Age can be an important last clue in definitely establishing the identity of a victim.

The molecules used by the researchers of the Forensic Molecular Biology and Immunology departments as the basis for their study are residues of our immune system, sjTREC molecules. These special DNA molecules are released in blood cells as a result of the adaptations that have to be made by newly formed specific immune cells, the T cells, to recognize bacteria, viruses, parasites or possibly cancer cells. The number of these sjTREC molecules in the blood decreases with age. This biological phenomenon is used to estimate the age in the test developed.  

Prof. Ate Kloosterman, of the Human Biological Traces department of the NFI (Netherlands Forensic Institute): “An important challenge within our field is to obtain as much relevant information as possible from biological traces that can be significant in forensic investigation and identification. This creative scientific study once again shows that the Netherlands is leading in the development and application of new methods in forensic DNA research.”

Erasmus MC’s research has been made possible thanks to subsidies from the NFI and the Netherlands Genomics Initiative (NGI)/NWO in the framework of the Forensic Genomic Consortium Netherlands (FGCN).
Erasmus MC is the largest University Medical Center in the Netherlands. Our primary goal is a healthy population. Nearly 13,000 employees devote themselves every day to providing outstanding care, facilitating world-class education and conducting pioneering research. These professionals are instrumental in developing expertise on health and illness. They link the latest scientific insights to practical treatments and prevention measures to provide maximum benefit to patients and to enable healthy people to stay healthy longer. Being visibly better and leading the way in the areas of complex, innovative and acute care by collaborating with others: these are key ambitions at Erasmus MC.