BMC develops protocol for preserving forensic evidence after a terrorist attack

April 21, 2015, Boston University Medical Center

Boston Medical Center (BMC) pathologists have developed a set of protocols for processing and preserving forensic evidence, such as shrapnel, bullets and other projectiles, in surgical specimens (i.e. amputated limbs, injured organs, etc.) after a terrorist attack based on lessons learned from the Boston Marathon bombing. Their findings are published online in advance of print in the Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

As a result of the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, three people were killed and 264 others were injured - some suffering from injuries so severe that they required amputations. Many of the specimens contained forensic evidence, but without any clear guidelines, pathology departments developed ad hoc protocols. While each institution was able to appropriately collect and preserve the necessary specimens, it was obvious that a need existed to develop a set of guidelines and standard operating protocols for preserving forensic evidence.

In the aftermath, a team of BMC pathologists met with Boston-area pathology departments, representatives from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to develop a set of predetermined guidelines to be used in times of crisis.

"Preservation of evidence was key in those first few hours following the Boston Marathon bombing because most of the amputations were being processed while the suspects were at large," said Cathryn J. Byrne-Dugan, MD, MPH, chief resident of the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at BMC and first author of the report. "In times of chaos, if there is no predetermined, planned approach, the overall efficiency lags and missteps are inevitable. These guidelines will streamline how evidence is collected in a medical setting, reducing the risk of human error, and provide critical information to the law enforcement community that may shed light on the attack itself, or those responsible for it."

As patients with serious injuries begin to arrive at a hospital, the protocol recommends identifying one pathology assistant and/or resident and one attending physician to act as a team to handle all of the surgical specimens associated with the incident and be the point-of-contact for . Once a specimen associated with the incident is identified, the team should carefully check the patient identifiers. If foreign bodies arrive separately from the surgical specimens, they should remain untouched in their sealed surgical container.

During the gross examination phase, the guidelines recommend that pathologists obtain labeled photographs and x-rays of the specimen. All loose objects, including clothing and make-shift tourniquets, should be placed in a container for the FBI and labeled with the patient's name. If there is any indication for DNA analysis, a frozen tissue sample may be stored. All should be described, measured, weighed, photographed, and then locked in a secure area. FBI or police can pick up the collected evidence on an as-needed basis. Any surgical specimens associated with a deceased patient should be transferred to the medical examiner's office.

"This protocol was validated by the nation's top forensic experts and provides simple, concrete steps that will prove extremely beneficial in a crisis situation where time, staff and resources may be stretched thinly," said Daniel Remick, MD, chief of the department of pathology at BMC and chairman of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) who served as senior author of the report.

Explore further: Review of whole slide imaging for pediatric specimens advances validation process

Related Stories

Review of whole slide imaging for pediatric specimens advances validation process

April 21, 2015
Whole slide imaging is an emerging technology that is poised to impact the practice of medicine by extending the virtual reach of pathologists. Classified as a medical device by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whole ...

DOJ, FBI acknowledge flawed testimony from unit

April 19, 2015
The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in the FBI Laboratory's microscopic hair comparison unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against ...

Investigators pursue digital clues in Boston bombings (Update)

April 16, 2013
Investigators pored over hours of video and thousands of photos Tuesday in a scramble for digital clues to the Boston marathon bombing.

Marathon bombing victims aided by rapid response, imaging of injuries

August 19, 2013
The Boston Marathon bombing brought international attention back to the devastating effects of terrorism. There were numerous victims with severe injuries that needed immediate attention. A novel study in Arthritis Care & ...

BUSM professor outlines best practices for treating victims of sexual assault

August 31, 2011
Judith A. Linden, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and vice chair for education in the department of emergency medicine at Boston Medical Center (BMC), has written ...

Recommended for you

How do babies laugh? Like chimps!

November 7, 2018
Few things can delight an adult more easily than the uninhibited, effervescent laughter of a baby. Yet baby laughter, a new study shows, differs from adult laughter in a key way: Babies laugh as they both exhale and inhale, ...

Tongue-in-cheek Nobels honor nutritional analysis of cannibalism, roller-coaster kidney stones treatment

September 14, 2018
A nutritional analysis of cannibalism and treating kidney stones on roller-coasters were research projects honored by tongue-in-cheek awards at Harvard University Thursday, designed to make you laugh first, and think later.

Pediatric robot patient offers new level of realism for doctors in training

September 10, 2018
A team of researchers and engineers at Gaumard Scientific has unveiled a new robot that raises the bar on medical training devices. The robot, called HAL, has been made to look like a five-year-old male patient and offers ...

Why men say they've had more lifetime sexual partners than women

July 25, 2018
The disparity between the number of sexual partners reported by men and women can largely be explained by a tendency among men to report extreme numbers of partners, and to estimate rather than count their lifetime total, ...

Censors jump into action as China's latest vaccine scandal ignites

July 22, 2018
Chinese censors on Sunday deleted articles and postings about the vaccine industry as an online outcry over the country's latest vaccine scandal intensified.

Revenge of a forgotten medical 'genius'

June 30, 2018
It's not an uncommon fate for a pioneering scientist: languishing unrecognised in his time before dying in obscurity. But as his 200th birthday approaches, the life-saving work of a Hungarian obstetrician is finally getting ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.