LMU professor awarded U.S. Dept. of Justice grant

Published 2:27 pm Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Beatrix Dudzik, PhD, assistant professor of anatomy at Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine (LMU-DCOM) has been awarded a grant for $377,535 by the United States Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, for research and development in forensic science for criminal justice purposes.

Dudzik’s research deals with improving the methods used in forensic science to identify human remains. Currently, the most widely used quantitative method for estimating postmortem interval (PMI) is based on scores from visual observations of human remains in various states of decomposition. Once remains are skeletonized, PMI estimation is based on subjective observations of how bone decomposes.

“This is an exciting, interdisciplinary and collaborative project that is bringing together research faculty and staff from both the LMU-College of Veterinary Medicine and the LMU-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine, as well as resources from the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center and the Mayo Clinic,” Dudzik said. “We hope to develop a novel, quantitative method to estimate the time that has passed since death in severely decomposed and skeletonized remains.”

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Dudzik is working on the research project with Paul Wood, PhD, professor of pharmacology for veterinary medicine through the metabolomics laboratory at LMU, as well as Johnny Cebak, PhD, a third-year osteopathic medical student at LMU-DCOM. Cebak recently was awarded National Student Researcher of the Year by the Council of Osteopathic Student Government Presidents. Cebak is leading all of the lab analyses during his year-long research fellowship which will provide opportunities for medical and graduate students to participate in the project.

This project aims to extend the capacity of forensic anthropologists and pathologists to approximate time since death from skeletal remains beyond current observation-based methods. Bone degradation has garnered great interest in the archaeological and forensic literature for use as a predictor of time since death, yet no systematic, experimental study has been carried out using human remains.

“It is important to be able to accurately predict how long someone has been dead to be able to reconstruct the timeline of events that led to the person’s death, as well as the cause or manner of death,” Dudzik said. “Prediction of how long a set of remains have decomposed for can help determine whether a death resulted from natural causes or was caused by a perpetrator.”

This study utilizes high resolution mass spectrometry to identify consistently preserved biomolecules in bone and test their capacity to accurately predict long term postmortem intervals, such as years or decades, from skeletal remains. High resolution mass spectrometry will be used to carry out lipidomic and metabolomic analyses of human skeletal remains to examine time-dependent biomarkers present during the postmortem degradation of bone.