US-based Pressure BioSciences (PBI) has entered a collaborative research and development agreement with Florida International University (FIU) to develop a new rape kit test method, based on its pressure cycling technology (PCT) platform.
The rape kit test is expected to be commercially available within the next 18 months.
The company noted there is a significant and urgent need for better test methods to address the national issue, as there is a current estimated backlog of 400,000 untested rape kits in the US and an estimated 180,000 new sexual assault cases annually.
Both parties believe that a test method focused on key intrinsic advantages of PCT can result in an improved rape kit test method with a potential to help reduce the backlog.
The collection of biological samples on cotton swabs for forensic analysis has been standard practice, which is difficult as the biological sample is frequently trapped in the swab's cotton fibres, leading to a loss of crucial evidence.
In order to address this complex problem with rape kits, the new test is being developed in which the male suspect's DNA must be isolated from a complex mixture of male and female cells.
FIU International Forensic Research Institute (IFRI) associate director Dr Bruce McCord said: "We are excited by this opportunity to expand the range of applications of PCT in forensic analysis, specifically to assist in the development of a rapid and direct alternative to current methods for the analysis of rape kits.
"In this project, we will further improve and validate this new PCT-based method.
"We believe this method will be able to isolate male and female DNA, even in situations where trace amounts of male DNA remain.
"We also believe that this PCT-based method could be significantly faster and provide improved sample recovery when compared to current methods."
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) and Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance have recently provided $80m in grants to law enforcement agencies across the country to test rape kits, prosecute cases, and support victims of sexual assault.
PBI president Richard Schumacher said: "We are excited to be working with our colleagues at FIU in the development of a next generation PCT-based rape kit test method.
"We believe this new method offers an important potential breakthrough in the recovery of high quality DNA from cotton swabs.
"We further believe that combining the capabilities, knowledge, and our shared interest in an effective outcome, we can more effectively move this innovative method down the path to successful commercialisation."
The company is focused on developing and marketing laboratory instrumentation and associated consumables to the life sciences sample preparation market.